- Gavin Hoffman thinks he's pretty good at kickball.
"Yeah, I scored, like, three runs today," the 11-year-old said nonchalantly Friday morning.
But he knows winning isn't everything.
"Obviously we want to win, but it's not so bad if we don't win," Hoffman said.
The Zion Lutheran sixth-grader from Rhinelander found himself playing on the road with many kids he didn't know. About 120 students filled the athletic fields behind Northland Pines High School for a yearly kickball tournament between three Lutheran schools from three communities.
"When they were talking about rain earlier in this week, I was like, 'No, we're going to play,'" Christ Lutheran School teacher Lisa Dunsmoor said.
Dunsmoor organized the tournament between Zion, Christ Lutheran, and Trinity of Minocqua. The tournament is in its 11th year.
"We've run with it, we've kicked with it," Dunsmoor said. "They enjoy it, and there's no reason to stop."
Organizers mix the teams so that kids from each school end up playing with each other. That arrangement builds a sense of good sportsmanship and fellowship that teachers want every student to grasp.
"They probably don't realize it but when you see them say, 'Oh hi, you were on my team last year,' then we know that it's working," Dunsmoor said. "Good Christian fellowship, good sportsmanship, is also part of that, and to know that they have other students in the area that go to a Lutheran school like them and they can enjoy each other's company."
Ask kids of any age or from any school, and they'll tell you the tournament helps do that.
"I just like seeing my friends, making new friends," Christ Lutheran fourth-grader Drew Mildebrandt said.
"I'm making lots of new friends," Christ Lutheran first-grader Natalie Jastrow said.
Forming those bonds is made easier thanks to Northland Pines. The school district donates and prepares the fields so the Lutheran schools can play for free.
"The facilities they have here for the kind of kickball tournament that we need have just been awesome," said Christ Lutheran Principal Paul Mildebrandt.
Offering students an awesome experience on a perfect day, while showing kids divided by geography that they all can feel at home together.
"It's a great way for these kids to come together, feel part of a group that is even bigger than they are," Dunsmoor said.