Recycling cans might not seem very lucrative, but with help from the community, it has raised $21,000 for the Winona Senior High School (WSHS) baseball team over the last eight years.
Rod Schwarz, former WSHS baseball coach, collected cans from certain businesses around town to contribute to the budget of the baseball team. When Matt Smith took over as head baseball coach eight years ago, it seemed only natural for him to continue the tradition.
Smith began taking the cans to Matejka Recycling, and explained to Jerry Matejka where the money from the cans was going. Within a few weeks, Matejka helped Smith come up with the idea of placing recycling cages around town to raise more money for the ballclub. “He actually purchased the can cages, and we placed them out in the community; the rest is history,” Smith said. “We put signage on them, and actually Jerry split the expense of the signage too, so he really got us started.” Smith also noted that Todd Hoffman Design has donated new signs for the cages twice over the last eight years.
Smith says the money, which averages about $2,500 a year, has helped with the cost of equipment such as baseball bats, baseballs, and even field upgrades. He adds that times are tough, budgets are limited, and this is just a way to add to the revenue. “For me, it’s a way to give back to my boys, and to the community as well,” Smith noted.
Four of the five cages are placed at local Kwik Trips, and the fifth cage is placed behind the Winona Mall. When Smith approached these properties, he promised to clean them out once a week to keep them from becoming too dirty.
Smith has cleaned out the cages over 400 times in the last eight years and has been flabbergasted by the support the team has received. “It’s amazing how the cages get cans put in them, even in the dead of winter; people are still willing to walk their cans down to these cages.”
Smith, who was born and raised in Winona, has a lot of respect for the residents of Winona and their ability to step up and support the community. “My folks had a furniture store in town, called Smith’s furniture, and the town supported my family. It’s just interesting how they supported my family’s business and they’re supporting these can cages as well.” Smith's father, Al, is a well-known baseball fan around town, a champion of the Winhawks, and Chiefs, as well as the Twins.
The Winona baseball program has a tradition of excellence, Smith said. “We want to give our ballplayers the best we can — Jerry recognizes that, and Todd Hoffman recognizes that, too.”
The 2013 baseball season was a banner year for the Winhawks; in addition to being named co-big nine champions this year, the team received an academic team award as well. The Winhawks team, which plays in section 1AAA and won an all-section academic gold award, has an average cumulative GPA of 3.42. Smith spoke glowingly of his team: “The boys understand the responsibility that goes along with being a Winhawk baseball player, so they work hard on and off the field.”
Smith acknowledged that none of this would be possible without Jerry, mentioning how Jerry will often call him asking if he wants aluminum bats, which he could recycle through his business, but offers to the team instead. “Jerry has such a big heart; he’s such a thoughtful guy, and he’s always looking out for the best interests of the kids in our community.”
The locations of the four Kwik Trips with cages are: Mankato Avenue and Broadway, Highway 43 and Highway 61, Huff and Sarnia, and West Fifth Street by the golf course.