Debbie Daugherty knows there's a guardian angel watching over this year's Hot Stove Tournament in Champion.
She feels the presence of 1960 Champion High School graduate Larry Durch, who passed away May 19 at age 72.
Durch, who was the past president and founder of the Champion Athletic Club, had a passion for baseball.
"It's definitely different," Daugherty said. "I feel that he's with us, especially with the way the rain has been avoiding us the last weekend. There's a huge hole."
Daugherty said there might be something done to honor Durch.
"We're still in the planning stages of that right now," Daugherty said. "We're looking to put in a flagpole in his memory. That's after the season gets done and we have more time to look at that."
Daugherty, who is this year's director for the youth baseball tournament and treasurer for the Champion Athletic Club, said the Hot Stove Tournament in Champion started in 1972.
"He's been here almost all those years," she said. "This is the first year without him. It was his baby. That was his big thing. He never missed a tournament."
The tournament started with 30 teams. Districts and regionals are this weekend with the regional finals on July 20 and 21. The winners from next weekend's play head to the state tournament in Alliance.
In addition to the Hot Stove regional finals, the Ohio Girls Softball Organization State Tournament will be there on July 20 and 21.
"We have eight fields at the complex and we'll be using seven of them," Daugherty said.
Durch was very busy during his life.
According to his obituary, "he was a founder and past president of the Champion Athletic Club, Cub Scout leader, co-founder of the Hoop & Net Girls' Basketball Association, past president of the Champion school board, chairman of the Champion zoning board and a board member of the Ohio Hot Stove Baseball Association of Alliance. He received numerous awards, including Ohio Education Service Center Leadership Award in 2000, inductee in the Warren Athletic Hall of Fame in 1997, Champion Police Department Citizen of the Year in 1983, Champion Alumni Association Achievement Hall of Fame in 2005 and Champion Alumni Association Athletic Hall of Fame in 2006. He was the Grand Marshal of Champion Baseball Parade in 2010."
Durch also spent his time scheduling the umpiring crews.
One such umpire who has worked the diamonds for the past 20 years is 1984 Warren Western Reserve graduate Dave Jorden. He met Durch when he was his coach during a summer league in Champion in the 1980s.
"Larry was like a good leader," Jorden said. "He could teach the kids right from wrong every day, to try to put them down the right path. Kids would listen to him."
Jorden, who also officiates high school baseball and basketball, said Durch got his start umpiring in the Hot Stove.
"I got wise, my baseball career was not going to go anywhere," Jorden said. "Then I took umpiring one time. Larry asked me if I would come work up in Champion. I said, 'Yeah.' I never left."
Durch first came into coaching in the Champion leagues when his younger brother, Dave, needed a manager for his team, Daugherty said.
"He took over coaching a team when he first graduated high school, summer after he graduated because his brother's team was looking for a manager," she said. "He stepped up to coach his younger brother and he stayed involved ever since."
Daugherty had always known Durch through the youth leagues. Her children played baseball as well. Even though her youngest is in college, she is still drawn to the Hot Stove Tournament.
"I just enjoy being down here and being around the kids," Daugherty said.
As for Durch, he just loved this time of the year - the Hot Stove Tournament in Champion.
"I think his biggest thrill was when he got to pass out the patches and plaques to the kids - the winners that advanced," Daugherty said. "He just loved the game of baseball."