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Lebanon Baseball Wears Camo for a Cause

  • West Lebanon VFW Commander Russ Cantlin, right, practices throwing out one of two ceremonial first pitches during Manchester West at Lebanon baseball in Lebanon, N.H., on May 27, 2014. Lebanon American Legion Post 22 Commander Robert Pushee threw out the other first pitch in a ceremony that included an honor guard from Post 22.(Valley News - Will Parson)

    West Lebanon VFW Commander Russ Cantlin, right, practices throwing out one of two ceremonial first pitches during Manchester West at Lebanon baseball in Lebanon, N.H., on May 27, 2014. Lebanon American Legion Post 22 Commander Robert Pushee threw out the other first pitch in a ceremony that included an honor guard from Post 22.(Valley News - Will Parson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Lebanon's Joe Flanagan wears the team's Operation Hat Trick camouflage hat during Manchester West at Lebanon baseball in Lebanon, N.H., on May 27, 2014. (Valley News - Will Parson)

    Lebanon's Joe Flanagan wears the team's Operation Hat Trick camouflage hat during Manchester West at Lebanon baseball in Lebanon, N.H., on May 27, 2014. (Valley News - Will Parson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • West Lebanon VFW Commander Russ Cantlin, right, practices throwing out one of two ceremonial first pitches during Manchester West at Lebanon baseball in Lebanon, N.H., on May 27, 2014. Lebanon American Legion Post 22 Commander Robert Pushee threw out the other first pitch in a ceremony that included an honor guard from Post 22.(Valley News - Will Parson)
  • Lebanon's Joe Flanagan wears the team's Operation Hat Trick camouflage hat during Manchester West at Lebanon baseball in Lebanon, N.H., on May 27, 2014. (Valley News - Will Parson)

Lebanon — Lebanon High School has done a lot to make sure American Legion baseball stays vibrant in the community. So when he found out about Operation Hat Trick, Pete St. Pierre saw an opportunity to return the favor.

On a blustery Tuesday afternoon, with a hard wind from the east forcing the American flag to stand at attention, St. Pierre joined a group of veterans to help the Lebanon baseball program cap its OHT experience. With a brief pregame ceremony, followed by the Raiders’ 3-1 win over Manchester West, Lebanon can now call itself fully vested in OHT, a University of New Hampshire-born initiative to raise money for programs that support veterans needing a helping hand.

The New Hampshire Athletic Directors Association adopted OHT as a cause this year and recruited about two-thirds of the New Hampshire Interscholastic Athletic Association’s member schools to take part. Proceeds from the sale of camouflage-style baseball caps worn by participating high school baseball and softball teams will go toward OHT-supported programs such as the Wounded Warrior Project.

That was just an added reason for St. Pierre to take an interest.

“It’s a joint venture between the community of Lebanon and the veterans in Lebanon,” said St. Pierre, who manages Post 22’s club on Mechanic Street and also serves as chairman for the post’s American Legion baseball program. “American Legion baseball is one of the programs down at (Post 22), and we have great support from the high school and the community to run that program. It’s a way for us to give something back for helping us.”

Lebanon’s efforts fell into new athletic director Zac Stevenson’s lap upon his arrival from Michigan in December. Linda Preston, Stevenson’s interim predecessor, got the ball rolling by seeking St. Pierre’s input, who in turn gained the post’s support.

OHT asks athletes participating in its fundraising efforts to sell ball caps, but the Raiders ended up not lifting a finger in that regard. Post 22, along with West Lebanon’s Wood-Guarino Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 9552, combined to foot a bill of more than $1,000 to cover the cost of some 70 hats for Lebanon’s varsity and jayvee baseball and softball players paired with a donation to OHT.

“That was awesome,” Stevenson said of the co-operative effort. “The VFW and Legion Post 22 reached in and were able to outfit all of our kids. That’s where it initially started.

“I’ve had some experience with Wounded Warrior projects that we’ve done back where I came from, so it just made perfect sense that we get active and be involved in it and get the kids going.”

The baseball hats sitting atop Raider heads — the central part of the OHT acronym — have actually been there for more than two weeks.

The NHADA selected the week of May 12 for unveiling OHT, encouraging schools to have pre-game ceremonies involving veterans in their neighborhoods. The calendar stalled Lebanon’s efforts: The Raiders were chasing road games all that week, so Stevenson picked out the day after Memorial Day as a fall-back solution.

Post 22 provided a color guard to accompany Tuesday’s national anthem. Post 22 commander Robert Pushee delivered a ceremonial first pitch into the mitt of Lebanon catcher Tanner Simms, with VFW commander Russ Cantlin following suit with a toss to Manchester West backstop Dylan Bissonnette. (Similarly, Tuesday’s Trinity-Lebanon softball game recognized Lebanon High social studies teacher Jason Tetu, a four-year Air Force veteran.)

Lebanon’s first OHT foray has opened Stevenson’s eyes to the number of LHS faculty members who are veterans. He expects to take delivery soon on another 70 OHT hats with the Raiders’ avian logo that will be sold to raise more money for OHT causes.

According to an OHT news release, the more than 60 NHIAA schools participating this spring are expected to bring in approximately $70,000 through the initiative.

“That little bit that we can give back to people that are in need, I think, is important,” Stevenson said. “It’s raising that awareness to that need that’s out there that sometimes is overshadowed by the bigger news stories that are often out there.”

Fungoes: The Blue Knights also wore camouflage OHT caps bearing their school logo. … Stevenson said Lebanon’s baseball and softball teams will hold similar pre-game ceremonies on Thursday when Milford visits. … Caleb Broughton threw a complete-game four-hitter to give the Raiders (9-6) a key win. Broughton fanned six and walked one for Lebanon, which shares eighth place in NHIAA Division II with Oyster River. The top eight teams in the league get home games in the first round of the state tournament next week. … The Raiders’ Joe Flanagan broke a 1-1 tie in the fifth inning, doubling and scoring on a Nate Gariepy single. Two batters later, Broughton drove in Gariepy on an infield grounder. … Flanagan also contributed two key defensive plays. The right fielder corralled a Christian Olivo single in the fifth, relaying the ball to Austin Pelletier, who threw Olivo out at second base trying stretch his hit into a double. Flanagan also made a fine diving catch on a Bissonnette liner in the sixth with none out and two on. … Simms doubled home Broughton in the first for Lebanon’s other run. … The two-run loss was as close as Manchester West (0-14) has come to a victory this season, matching two previous two-run defeats, including one against top-ranked Goffstown last week.

Greg Fennell can be reached at gfennell@vnews.com or 603-727-3226.