Left Hand Valley Courier - All Local, All The Time

By Jocelyn Rowley
Editorial@lhvc.com 

Historical Society lecture brings Niwot's storied baseball history to life

 

October 13, 2016

Photo by Bruce Warren Niwot High Softball Coach Bobby Matthews (left) visits with panelists Megan Matthews, Tim Rudden, Mike Moat, Craig McBride, John Conilogue and Gregg Hangge at the Niwot Historical Society’s History of Baseball in Niwot presentation.

On Oct. 5th, the Niwot Historical Society and President Kathy Koehler kicked off the 2016-17 Niwot: Now & Then lecture series with an examination of baseball and its impact on the town.

From its earliest days, when Evart “Toots” Conilogue got together with his brothers and friends to form the Niwot Farmers; to the modern era, when Coach Bob Bote led the Niwot High Cougars to five state championships in eight years, the national pastime has been an integral part of Niwot’s civic identity.

In Baseball History - In Niwot and Beyond, Biff Warren, who began coaching baseball in Niwot in 1977, moderated a panel of nine former players, coaches and administrators as they shared their photos, memorabilia and memories of Niwot’s colorful baseball past.

Baseball Begins in Niwot

Niwot’s first baseball team, the Farmers, formed in the early part of the last century, comprised of boys from many of the area’s original families, including names such as Conilogue, Arbuthnot, Jones and Johnson. The team played its home games on a field located at 1st & Murray, on what is now the Niwot’s Children’s Park.

The Niwot Farmers were active through the 1920s, and the baseball field at 1st & Murray was used until around 1940. After that, much of the town’s baseball activity moved to the old Niwot School, where the Diagonal Highway now runs, and the fields on the adjacent Knaus farm property.

The Conilogues continued to be an important part of Niwot’s baseball history during this period, as the second generation grew to playing age. Panelist John Conilogue, grandson of Toots Conilogue, recounted his grandfather’s old-school coaching techniques when he began playing. “He would hit balls at me in my catcher’s gear, not throw them,” he recalled fondly.

The Evolution of Niwot Youth Sports

In the late 1960s, Niwot-area parents, many of them IBM employees, were concerned their sons would be unable to join a baseball team in either Boulder or Longmont, according to a newspaper article produced by panelist Megan Roth Matthews. Her father, Dennis Roth, along with John Dageenakis and Jima Lea Folker, filed incorporation papers for Gunbarrel Lefthand Valley Boys Baseball, Inc., in 1972. Panelist Tony Dageenakis, son of John Dageenakis, recalled the early days of the organization.

By 1978, the program added girls softball and basketball, and became the Gunbarrel Lefthand Valley Recreation Association, or GLVRA for short.

In its earliest days, GLVRA was strictly a volunteer organization. As the area grew, so did the league. In the 1980s, many GLVRA youth baseball players, including John Conilogue, were members of the Niwot High team which played deep into the state championship tournament three years in a row.

In 1991, the organization swapped the ungainly GLVRA moniker for the more succinct Niwot Youth Sports (NYS). Today, NYS serves nearly 900 young athletes in the Niwot, Gunbarrel and South Longmont areas. “We’re a recreational organization,” panelist and NYS Baseball Director Tim Rudden explained. “Basically, we want to make sure that anyone who wants to can play baseball,” he concluded.

Despite its humble beginnings, NYS today boasts some of the best ball fields in Boulder County. Among them are six baseball/softball fields known as Hangge Fields at Monarch Park, which were built by NYS as part of land development proposals that also netted Boulder County 100 acres of open space.

NYS also built a baseball/softball field known as Left Hand Valley Grange Field on land donated to the county by Royce Johnson when the three Johnson Fields were lost to development. At the same time, Left Hand Water District made land near its offices on Nimbus Road available, and NYS built three fields, now known as the Biff Warren Baseball Complex, one of which was funded by a grant from the Colorado Rockies.

Baseball at Niwot High School

The baseball teams at Niwot High School have a special relationship with Niwot Youth Sports.

“Part of our success at the high school were the kids who came up through NYS,” Jason Lathrop, former Niwot High head coach who currently coaches a NYS team, said. Lathrop, who played for Niwot on its successful 80s team, said players from NYS typically have a high level of baseball knowledge.

Panelist Mike Moat agreed, noting that he had formed “great friendships” through NYS, and credited its coaches with teaching him sound baseball fundamentals.

Moat would know something about great baseball. As a pitcher, Moat led the Niwot Cougars to three consecutive state 4A championships in 1998, 1999 and 2000. He was drafted by the Texas Rangers, but went on to play under Tony Gwynn at San Diego State University before being drafted by and signing with the Chicago White Sox, playing professionally for four years.

During this era, the Cougars were coached by Bob Bote. In 28 seasons, Bote took teams to the playoffs 20 times, and won state championships in 1998, 1999, 2000, 2004 and 2005. Warren noted that numerous players from Bote’s teams went on to play collegiately and several played professionally.

Lathrop assumed head coaching duties following Bote’s resignation in 2006. When he left the program in 2009, Craig McBride, who was an assistant coach on the 2004 and 2005 championship teams, took over, and remains in the position today.

McBride, whose Cougar team lost in the state championship game in 2014, said his teams are usually competitive in “best 4A division” in Colorado. “We’re generally in the playoffs.”

Softball in Niwot

In 1978, with the addition of the area’s first softball team Niwot’s girls were finally given a chance to participate in the GLVRA. The sport continued to grow throughout the 80s, despite the lack of a high school level softball program in the area.

Matthews was a member of several of the early softball teams, including competitive teams coached by Warren. Later, she and her teammates would form the first softball team at Niwot High, though the sport wasn’t officially sanctioned by the St. Vrain Valley School District until the mid-1990s.

“We had to prove there was enough interest. So, every Saturday , we would play round robin tournaments against teams from Longmont, Skyline and Lyons,” Matthews explained.

Today, Niwot remains a hot bed of softball. According to Rudden, the softball program at NYS has a high participation rate and consistently fields more teams than competing leagues, despite the rise of competitive clubs.

The high school program, meanwhile, hasn’t enjoyed the same triumph as the baseball program, but usually wins more games than it loses. Megan Matthews’ husband, Cougars head softball coach Bobby Matthews, reported that this year’s team is “young, but successful,” with a number of freshman starters, and noted that many players have gone on to very successful careers at the college level, including Jennessa Tesone and Nickie Blue.

Like his baseball counterparts, Bobby Matthews also noted the important role of NYS in the local softball community. Most of his players either got their start in the league, or participated in a NYS summer camp.

Baseball Today

Today, baseball and softball are as popular as ever in Niwot. Not only do NYS programs attract some of the area’s best athletes’ participation, but the organization can also boast a dedicated stable of volunteers and the region’s best facilities.

 

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