BAZETTA - Temperatures of 30 degrees and winds gusting around 20 miles per hour are normally reserved for sports played in November - not for softball in mid-April. But when teams are playing for a good cause, they will fight through the freezing temperatures to get in a few games on the diamond.
Beginning Friday and concluding Saturday, Ursuline held its sixth annual "Irish Strikeout Cancer Invitational" at Candlelite Knolls. Along with the Fighting Irish, Howland, Jackson-Milton, West Branch, East Palestine and Ashtabula Edgewood took part in the two-day tournament.
"This was the first year we've had it this late, the third week, usually we have it earlier and I thought that would help with the weather," Ursuline coach Michael Kernan said. "I think now, the snow and the weather is a sign from up above saying that we appreciate what you're doing and the snow flakes are a thank you."
Tribune Chronicle / R. Michael Semple
Ursuline’s Stephanie O’Halek reaches out and catches a hard-hit ball as Jackson-Milton’s Becca Jones (2) goes to second base during their game on Satur
Tribune Chronicle / R. Michael Semple
Jackson-Milton players (from left) Michaela Delaney, Becca Jones, Gina Catone, and Kari Edwards cheer on their teammtes from inside the dugout while bundled-up on Saturday.
This was the sixth year the Irish hosted the now annual invitational. While on the surface it's a good way to bring together talented teams to play each other over a two-day time span, the original reason behind starting it was more off-the-field reasons, according to Kernan.
"As our program progressed, I felt the kids should come out of program as better people, not just better players." Kernan said. "As a program, we do fundraising, we do volunteer work, and conditioning, but I asked myself, 'What can you do that helps the kids move on and be better people?' That's where this developed.
"Also, all traditions have to start somewhere. Having something like this, and let's say it goes for 10 or 20 years, it had to start somewhere. Overall, it's good for the kids because it gets them involved."
In the past, the invitational has generated between $1,000 to $1,500 over the two days. Ursuline sells T-shirts and holds a chinese auction, 50/50 and a bake sale to raise money for local cancer charities.
In support of the cause, teams wore pink shirts, socks and hair bows to show their support of cancer awareness. Ursuline donned custom-made pink jerseys and Howland wore pink t-shirts and socks to show their support.
"This is our third year playing in it, and I told him that he can already count us in for next year," Howland coach Bill Amero said. "We enjoy doing it and our parents were really glad that we did it. We bought the girls pink T-shirts and socks, which they wore in support, but they said this was the only day of the year they wanted to wear pink. But I think everyone enjoyed themselves."
Despite the freezing temperatures and raising awareness and money for the cause, games of softball were played. West Branch won the invitational, going 3-0 over the two days. Ursuline finished 2-1, losing to Jackson-Milton in the third game of the tournament. Howland and Jackson-Milton both finished 1-1, as they elected to sit out the first game of Saturday's play due to the cold weather. Edgewood finished 1-2 and East Palestine went 0-3.
With teams like Howland and Edgewood already committed to play in next year's invitational, Kernan hopes the tournament can grow and continue for years to come because like he said, it's not just about softball - it's developing players off the field as well.
"Each year this is growing, and we are getting teams that are more committed and loyal to the cause," Kernan said. "And with that, the kids are growing with it. As long as they understand that they are experiencing and working for cancer awareness, this is a character builder for them."