Ballin’ for Beltz

Locals hold tourney to raise awareness of conditions at former hoops hotbed

Clint Riese
Sports Editor

It felt like the old days in Beltz Park on July 21 as neighborhood boys took to the court in southeast Forest Lake for a Saturday afternoon of pickup basketball. “Boys” may no longer properly describe the crew of streetballers, but many of the men spent their formative years playing at the park when it was a basketball hotbed.

The facility at Beltz remains the city’s only outdoor full court, but it mostly sits idle these days. That’s what inspired residents Josh Nelson and Malcolm Brown to organize a 3-on-3 tournament. Besides reconnecting to the joy of years gone by, the local basketball fans dreamed up the Toaster Classic Basketball Tournament as a way to call attention to the what they describe as outdated and deteriorating facilities at Beltz.

Josh Menne and Eric Thorson pressure Jeremy Stiner during the recent pickup basketball tournament at Beltz Park. (Photos courtesy of Nick Doten/Braccio Foto)

A slam dunk

By all accounts, the tournament was a slam dunk, save for a morning storm which whittled the field to eight teams from about a dozen. The bracket impressed, nevertheless. There was Bain Capital, a squad formed entirely by the Hegseth family of Forest Lake basketball fame. There were the Musky Muskrats, with a roster also steeped in local lore featuring past Ranger standouts such as Ryan Brown and Ben Hoidal. A couple teams full of talent from St. Paul added depth to the field.

The court heated up with action as the clouds dispersed. Two half-court games took place at a time, so half the field watched as the other half played.

“They brought their lawn chairs right up there and cheered on their buddies,” said Nelson.

The TruBallers, led by Lorinzo Foster, and the Renegades, led by Cole Skoog, earned first-round wins and joined Bain Capital and the Musky Muskrats in the semifinals.

Jeremy Stiner of the Renegades hit a long jumper to force overtime in the first semifinal, but the TruBallers escaped with a 16-15 win. It took two overtimes to determine the other semifinal. Pete Hegseth scored the winning bucket as Bain Capital edged the Musky Muskrats 17-16.

Three-on-three was the name of the game on July 21.

The Muskrats went on to win three straight games to emerge from the consolation bracket with title hopes intact. In the winner’s bracket, Phil Hegseth scored 10 points as Bain Capital earned a spot in the championship round with a 16-12 win over the TruBallers.

Due to the Hegseth clan’s first-round win, the Musky Muskrats would need to win two games in a row to lift the trophy. Bain Capital, meanwhile, needed just one win to become the first-ever Toaster Classic champs.

Hoidal, the Muskrat’s star who plays for the University of Minnesota-Morris, made sure of a winner-take-all game by scoring six points in a 17-15 win in game one. With the Muskrats seizing the momentum and Bain Capital fatigued due to injury, the final was anticlimactic. Hoidal poured in 14 points to lead his team to a 21-12 victory.

Hoidal’s 58 points on the day earned him tournament MVP honors. The all-tourney team also included Muskrats Brown and Alec Johnson along with Pete and Phil Hegseth.

Organizers Nelson and Brown have already decided to make the tournament an annual event.

“I was surprised at the quality,” Nelson said. “It just went better than we could’ve imagined.”

The Hegseths were happy they came across a sign promoting the tournament.

“It was a lot of fun,” Pete said. “I’m glad they put it together. [Beltz Park] was a hub for us and still has been a hub so when we heard about the tournament we said, ‘We have to go defend our home turf.’”

Shooting for an upgrade

Nelson and Brown hope they will have a new cause to promote for the event in 2013. That would mean that their plea for upgrades at Beltz paid off. The hoops are in further disrepair than the cracked court, Nelson says – one stands about 9 1/2 feet, the other about 9 feet, and both are crooked and rusty. Before the strong turnout, Nelson wondered if a tournament at the park could even draw enough teams to fill a bracket.

“We hear from a lot of people in Forest Lake that there’s nowhere to play,” he says. “We’re hoping to inspire some more interest. Maybe the city will start seeing that these guys will come play there if it’s taken care of better.”

Pete Hegseth, who sought the Republican endorsement to run for U.S. Senate this fall, joked that the one earmark he would support would be for Beltz Park.

“It would be a fairly minimal investment for two hoops,” he says. “The city does a nice job with the park itself there, but you could upgrade those hoops and you’d see even more use than you have now.”

Renae Reedy, Forest Lake parks director, says the group asked permission to reserve the court for the tournament but did not inform the city of the event’s cause.

The department has an annual budget of approximately $8,000 for repairs but it goes fast, Reedy says. Anything beyond that usually is funded through park development fees, but that balance is at zero at the moment.

The city once looked into replacing the adjacent tennis courts but sticker shock led it to back away from those plans. The hoops, which date to the court’s installation in 1993, would be much more feasible, Reedy says.

“They’re probably due to be updated,” she says.