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Published On: October 25th, 2016

NWL Announces Executive and Organization of the Year & Divisional Alignment for 2017

John Fanta Named NWL Executive of the Year, Kalamazoo Growlers Voted Top Organization of 2016

Rochester, Minn. – The Northwoods League has announced that John Fanta, GM of the Wisconsin Rapids Rafters, has been named the 2016 Northwoods League Executive of the Year. The award, which was decided by a vote of team officials at the League's annual fall meetings last week in Kalamazoo, MI, is given annually to the League's outstanding executive. In another vote, the Kalamazoo Growlers were awarded the Organization of the Year award. The league also announced that with expansion for the 2017 season the Bismarck Larks will play in the North Division while the new affiliate in Fond du Lac, WI will play in the South Division.

Fanta recently completed his 9th year in the NWL and third as the GM of the Rafters culminating in a Summer Collegiate World Series Championship. In his first season as GM, the Rafters drew 47,631 fans which was the second highest overall attendance in the team's first five years of existence and ranked 17th-best among all summer collegiate leagues in the country. In 2015 the Rafters set a new per game attendance average of 1,464 fans per game and hosted the largest crowd in team history of 2,500. Fanta has helped oversee two Northwoods League All-Star Games in Wisconsin Rapids (2011 and 2015) and was named the 2014 Big Top Baseball Executive of the Year. Before joining the Rafters Fanta spent two seasons as an intern for the La Crosse Loggers. His internship was followed by a brief stint as a Management Trainee at Marine Credit Union in Onalaska, Wisconsin, before assisting with start-up of the Wisconsin Rapids franchise in 2010. Fanta received his bachelor's degree in Sport Management and Business Administration from the University of Wisconsin – La Crosse in 2009.

“I am fortunate to be surrounded by a phenomenal support staff and to be a part of an organization like Big Top Baseball,” said Fanta. “It was a tremendous season for our team on and off the field and receiving this award isn’t possible without the tireless efforts of my entire staff along with the support of our corporate partners and loyal fans.”

The Kalamazoo Growlers were honored with the Organization of the Year award after another successful summer at Homer Stryker Field. The Growlers continued to have success at the gates with 80,828 fans through the ballpark resulting in a 2,245 per-game average. Off the field the Growlers continued their success of gaining national attention for their promotions with the “Emojersey”. Fans of the club had the chance to vote for which emojis would be placed on the team's jersey for the Growlers' game on Aug. 13 against the Rockford Rivets. Within hours of the promotion's release, it went viral – first being tweeted by ESPN’s Darren Rovell and ESPN’s SportsCenter, and followed by articles from Cut4 (, CBS Sports, Sports Illustrated, Yahoo Sports, NBC Sports, Fox Sports, USA Today and many local news affiliates. No stranger to such attention, the Growlers won Ballpark Digest’s Promotion of the Year in 2014 for the Selfie Jersey, which was featured on Good Morning America, MLB Network, ESPN and many more national outlets.

"It's a big honor to receive this award with so many deserving organizations and front office executives in the Northwoods League,” said Growlers Managing Partner Brian Colopy. “Our staff is truly honored that we are a part of this amazing community and dedicated fan base in Kalamazoo."


The Northwoods League is the proven leader in the development of elite college baseball players. The 23-year old summer collegiate league is the largest organized baseball league in the world with 20 teams, drawing significantly more fans, in a friendly ballpark experience, than any league of its kind. A valuable training ground for coaches, umpires and front office staff, more than 160 Northwoods League players have advanced to Major League Baseball, including Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer (WAS) and MLB All-Stars Chris Sale (CWS), Jordan Zimmermann (DET), Curtis Granderson (NYM), Lucas Duda (NYM) and Ben Zobrist (CHC). All league games are viewable live via the Northwoods League website. For more information, visit or download the Northwoods League Mobile App on the Apple App Store or on Google Play.