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Austin Lang and his mini horses are big winners

Midwesterners love the county fair, especially Austin Lang, who fits in an extra one every year.

Each year after the McLeod County Fair, Lang and his family head down to join the Clay County Fair in Spencer, Iowa. The two-week county fair is considered one of the largest in the United States with roughly 300,000 annual visitors.

“I’ve been going down there for 15 years,” said Lang, a 17-year-old Lynn Hustlers McLeod County 4-H’er who has shown two American miniature horses for most of his life. “My grandma shows down there, so I show against my grandma.”

At the McLeod County Fair this year, Lang and his horse Whoopsie won Champion Miniature Horse. At the Clay County fair, Whoopsie won her class in 36 inches and taller. Smokey won his class in 34 inches and shorter.

“Grandma always does good,” Lang said. “It’s hard to beat her. We go back and forth every year, that’s why it’s so much fun. It’s a family thing.”

He came out on top this year, and also managed to best his grandmother, Donna Scheele, in the obstacle course. He also took home a unique award this year.

“I think it was supposed to be a secret,” Lang said. “It’s the first year they’ve had a sportsmanship award.”

Judges were asked to pick which contestant showed the best sportsmanship, and Lang’s number was called. Lang was credited for his manners as well as his conduct.

“Every time I went to a show ring a judge gave me a tip, and when I came back in I did their tip,” he said.

As his trophy, he was given a horse halter.


Lang has been in 4-H since he was in third grade. It appealed to him more than Clover Buds, as young members of the club show alongside their parents.

“I like to show by myself,” he said. “I learned from watching other people, and my mother (Rebecca Scheele-Lang) especially. She is good at showing horses. My grandma is good. It’s in the family.”

4-H, he said, helped him improve his leadership and public speaking.

“And it’s another competition with a lot of people,” Lang said. “You can make new friends.”

Lang estimated he puts in about 15 hours a week with the horses, mucking, caring for them, guiding them through an obstacle course and driving them.

“There is a little buggy they pull,” he said.

Smokey, age 11, is the troublemaker.

“We would call him the devil child,” Lang said. “He’s always sneaking in food. He’s always hungry. He’s a young boy, always hungry.”

Whoopsie, age 13, has a different personality.

“She’s always shy,” Lang said. “She’ll love attention, but you have to catch her. She’s not wild, just shy.”

Lang’s experience with miniature horses goes back to when he was a young child, thanks to his grandmother.

“My grandmother, she bought her gelding. His name was Bullet,” Lang said. “They didn’t know what they were getting into, but they showed mules and they liked mules and bigger horses. My grandpa, he’s not a big horse fan, but he puts up with it because he loves my grandma. But then he fell in love with the miniature horse, and grandma was in love, and I fell in love because I was just a little thing. I loved Bullet.”

Grandma bought a mare and stallion and started her own herd. That’s where Smokey came from.

“She brought like three colts that year and I got to pick the one I wanted,” Lang said. Whoopsie also came from Grandma.

Lang, a Hutchinson High School junior, intends to keep showing horses for awhile, though he isn’t certain what awaits him after college.

“I’ll go to Spencer as long as I can,” he said. “I just love showing with my grandma and grandpa.”

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Prepare for the Battle of the Tigers

It’s Homecoming Week at Hutchinson High School, and this year it will reach its climax with the Battle of the Tigers.

The Hutchinson Tigers and the Delano Tigers meet at S.R. Knutson field 7 p.m. Friday night to cap off a week of excitement with the annual Hutchinson High School Homecoming football game.

“They tell me it could be a closer game,” said senior Sydney Schmidt, a homecoming chair from the Student Council. “It won’t be a blowout.”

No matter the result of the football game, the crowd will have plenty more to look forward to. The Homecoming Court will be introduced and recipients of the ISD 423 Foundation will be recognized at half time. The foundation uses money it invests to provide ongoing financial assistance to support innovative and creative classroom programs, projects and activities through Hutchinson Public Schools.

Following the game, the Marching Tigers will take to the field with a lights-out performance. The lights will be shut off on the field and the band will march with glow sticks, performing a version of its first field marching show, “Dante.”

The night will end with a student dance at Hutchinson High School.


Before the action-packed Friday finale, Homecoming Week will kick off Monday morning when the Homecoming Court is revealed in Whalen Gymnasium. The theme of the day is Pajama Day.

Tuesday is Country Day and will feature voting for homecoming royalty — a king, queen, prince and princess. A home boys soccer game against Waconia is at 5 p.m., followed by a volleyball game against Sartell at 7 p.m.

“Our new bean bag tournament is after the Tuesday volleyball game,” Schmidt said. “We are having students team up in teams of two. The final championship game is Friday during our pep fest.”

During the championship match of the bean bag tournament, participants will take on challenges such as tossing while balancing on a ball or while on one leg.

Voting will continue Wednesday, which is College Day, and on Thursday, which is Class Color Day. Seniors will wear black, juniors will wear white, sophomores will wear yellow, freshmen will wear gray and faculty will wear orange. The day will end with a home volleyball game against New Prague at 7 p.m.

Students will dress up in Tiger colors, black and yellow, for Spirit Day on Friday. The day’s first major event is the Homecoming Tiger Parade 1-1:30 p.m. It will start at Hutchinson Middle School and circle around School Road to Hutchinson High School. The community is invited to join the following pep fest 1:30-2:20 p.m. at Whalen Gymnasium, where the Homecoming Court coronation will take place.

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Hutchinson City Council sets preliminary levy increase of 3.1 percent

Hutchinson property owners will likely see another tax increase after the City Council on Tuesday approved a preliminary total tax levy — general fund and debt service combined — of $7.5 million for 2020. That would represent a total increase of 3.1 percent, including a 4.5 percent increase in taxes for the general fund totaling $5.29 million.

No increase was made to the current $2.2 million debt service tax levy.

Tax collection for 2020 will not be finalized until late December, and the annual Truth-in-Taxation hearing was set for 6 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 5, at the City Center, 111 Hassan St. S.E. The council can reduce the preliminary levy amount, but it can’t increase it.

The estimated median-valued home was raised to $166,500 from $160,000 the previous year. City officials also received an estimated 3.1 percent increase, or $11.2 million, in the city’s 2020 tax capicity, which is determined by properties’ taxable market values multiplied by their tax rates.

“It (the city’s tax capacity) was actually less of an increase than we anticipated,” said Finance Director Andy Reid. “I was anticipating a 4 percent increase, which was more in line with our residential home value increase.”

The estimated 3.1 percent tax capacity increase would essentially offset a 3.1 percent tax levy increase, leaving the tax rate flat from 2019. A median-valued home would have city taxes of $967, about a $47 increase.

The city’s Economic Development Authority received a preliminary levy of $189,133, a 3.7 percent bump from the 2019 amount of $182,303. The set limit is based on a percentage of the city’s 2019 estimated market value of $1.04 billion.

“That amounts to a little over $6,800 increase, which will fund increasing costs within the EDA’s operating budget,” Reid said.

The Housing Redevelopment Authority is also primarily funded through its own levy. The HRA requested and received a 2020 preliminary levy of $192,993, representing a 3.7 percent increase. This would also be based on the city’s 2019 market value.

“Just to give you some perspective, the HRA’s wages and benefits alone are expected to increase a little over $8,000,” Reid said. “So this levy doesn’t even cover those wages and benefits.”

For city workers, the 2020 preliminary budget includes a 2 percent shift in the pay grid, a 5 percent estimated increase in workers compensation rates and a 7 percent increase in health premiums. There are no increases to other employee benefits, and the impact from the open enrollment for health and dental coverage will be known for the final budget.

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School lunches for all students

Every so often the issue of “lunch shaming” makes it into national or state news as schools grapple with the diligent way to respond when students don’t have money to pay for school lunch.

In 2014, Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid found 53 percent of Minnesota schools provided alternate meals — such as a peanut butter and jelly sandwich or cheese sandwich — and 15 percent provided no meal to students whose meal accounts were in the negative. A follow up this summer found 13 percent offer an alternative meal and no schools offer no meal. Minnesota law prohibits schools from withholding diplomas for lunch debt, a practice used by some schools in the United States. Schools are required by the United States Department of Agriculture to try and collect meal debt.

Change came as parents pushed back against the shame alternate lunches brought to young students hyper-conscious of the perception from their classmates.

At Hutchinson Public Schools, students are always offered a full meal.

“It is going to be a better day for them as far as learning and behavior if they have a meal,” said Lesli Mueller, director of child nutrition for the district. “If they don’t have a meal, you are going to run into the opposite.”

A typical lunch at Hutchinson schools includes a variety of options.

“We offer things in all five food groups,” Mueller said. “In order for it to be a compliant meal, they have to take three of the five components we offer. And they have to include a half cup of fruit or vegetables. Anything in that pattern is considered a meal.”

Even students whose accounts may be in the red are provided that lunch. Additional items, such as seconds and ala cart items not on the menu, are not included.

“It’s not a minimal meal, they have quite a number of offerings,” Mueller said. “We don’t turn anybody down.”

She said that sometimes families are not aware of the school’s free or reduced-price meal option programs, which are funded by the United States Department of Agriculture and the state. Other times, families don’t apply because they think they will not qualify.

“It doesn’t hurt to fill out the form,” Mueller said. “What do you have to lose? Some think they won’t qualify because of some situation, but you don’t know unless you fill it out.”

The school’s form can be found online at tinyurl.com/yy9223pr. Staff at the school lunch office can also help with the form if finding it online is a barrier.

Mueller said Hutchinson Public Schools wants to start rolling out an after-school meal program, but USDA guidelines require such programs come with a student enrichment opportunity, and after school athletics do not count alone. Mueller said administrators are looking at which buildings have daily after-school programs that would meet the criteria.

“We might start at the high school to get our grounding,” Mueller said. “But we hope to do it in (Park Elementary, Hutchinson Middle School and Hutchinson High School) at some point.”

She hopes to launch the program at Hutchinson High School this fall.

The school already offers a free breakfast program for students in kindergarten through fifth grade.

“We want to get the kids off to a good start in their day,” Mueller said, “so they are ready to learn and not distracted, and behavior won’t get in the way.”