Banking & Baseball: The Plankinton F&M Bankers

In the small town of Plankinton, South Dakota, baseball is more than just a game – it’s a community tradition deeply rooted in the heart of Farmers and Merchants State Bank. For over four decades, the bank has been the driving force behind the local amateur baseball team, the Plankinton F&M Bankers, fostering a sense of camaraderie and pride that extends far beyond the diamond.

The Bankers’ origin can be traced back to 1982 when the bank’s beloved president at the time, Hershell Page, a fervent baseball enthusiast, decided to sponsor the team. Showing his commitment, Hershell provided equipment, uniforms, and a heartbeat to the squad, and hardly ever missed a game until the remarkable age of 90.

“Hershell Page loved baseball,” recalls Ron Kristensen, former President of the bank and a player himself from 1982 – 1996 (ish). “It meant a lot to us that he sponsored the team’s equipment and uniforms, and his presence at every game was a constant source of inspiration. In 2018, he even got to throw the first pitch at the State Amateur Baseball tournament in Sioux Falls.”

In the early days of the team, players from surrounding towns flocked to join the Bankers, creating a melting pot of talent and a deep sense of community. As the team’s reputation grew, so did its connection to the bank, with many players choosing to bank with Farmers and Merchants State Bank – a savvy marketing strategy that was a byproduct of strong friendships with the players who lived outside of Plankinton.

The Bankers’ journey has been a rollercoaster ride throughout the decades, with ebbs and flows that brought winning seasons and seasons of learning and improving. Chris Hill, a player for several years and team manager from 2002 – 2022, remembers the lean years of the early 2000s, when poor seasons threatened to dampen spirits. With the re-opening of Aurora Plains Academy (known as the State Training School before) in 2007, several people came back to live and work in their hometown of Plankinton. A large handful of them joined the Bankers baseball team in the next few years.
In 2011, fueled by a new wave of local talent, a strong winning streak began, with the Bankers capturing an astonishing EIGHT district championships over the next decade.

“It’s about more than just winning,” says Chris, however. “It’s about the friendships, bringing our families and kids together, the commitment to the game, and the unwavering support of our community.”

That support has manifested in numerous ways, from the raucous crowds that pack Hubie Dunn Field in Plankinton to the fundraisers that have become cherished community events. Highlights over the decades include the Kyle & Company and Rick Larsen band performances, and a Purple vs. Gold game in 2020 that provided a bit of fun and fundraising in the thick of the Covid-19 pandemic, where area business people and former Banker players even got to take a crack at the bat in between innings.

The 2023 season last year brought in a new wave of younger players, as the “seasoned” ones hung up their uniforms to join the crowd of supporters. That was the same year that Chris Hill passed the team manager torch to his younger brother, Marcus Hill. Naturally, with a large crop of younger players, there is a learning curve, but the only place they can go is up as they improve their craft and skills in the upcoming years.

This 2024 season, a new generation of players are already adding their names to the Bankers’ storied history. One thing remains constant: the steadfast backing of Farmers and Merchants State Bank, a pillar of the Plankinton community that understands the value of investing in more than just finances – but in the very fabric of the town.

“Our overall goal every year is to make it to the state tournament,” Chris says. “But win or lose, we know that the real victory lies in the memories we create with our teammates, friends, and families, and the bonds we forge, both on and off the field.”

With a small-town tradition that spans generations, the Bankers stand as a testament to the power of community and the spirit of America’s pastime. And at the heart of it all, Farmers and Merchants State Bank beats steadily, a driving force behind a team that has become an indelible part of Plankinton’s identity.