Last Modified: Saturday, July 13, 2013 8:11 PM
JENNINGS — The upcoming Jennings High School Alumni Softball Tournament isn’t likely to be attended by hundreds of fans wearing team colors, and it won’t attract high-paid athletes in their prime. But it doesn’t matter.
Organizers say the tournament is about reminiscing with classmates, making memories and helping support the school’s athletic programs.
“The younger people come out because they are competitive and really want to play ball,” organizer Tom Precht (class of 1970) said. “The older ones just come out to have fun. And some of us are getting older and can’t remember much, so we can tell some big tales.”
For two decades the tournament has drawn alumni from the 1950s to 2000s to the city’s Parks and Recreation facilities on Academy Street on the last full weekend in July.
This year’s events will be July 25-27 and will feature three days of softball games, a golf tournament, washer tournament, home run derby, music and tailgating.
“We had no clue what it was all about when we first started,” organizer Jimmy Segura (class of 1971) said. “I remember the first year we got the word out in the newspaper and made a few calls. It was unbelievable at the number of people who came to support it.”
In the first year, the tournament drew nearly 40 teams, including some teams from the 1950s, and was attended by a record crowd of 2,000 people. The number of teams have dwindled over the years as players get older. Last year’s event only attracted 20 teams, but hundreds were in the stands cheering the teams on, Segura said.
“It’s just as much fun to walk around and visit with everyone as it is to be playing,” Segura said.
Plans for the tournament were begun in 1993 by Mike Gary (class of 1972), as a way to help raise funds to buy uniforms for the girl’s basketball team.
Gary began brainstorming with Precht and Segura about what they could do to raise money. Soon the wheels were greased and put in motion and after many long hours of planning, the first tournament was held in 1994.
Monies raised from the tournament benefit the school’s athletic department and help fund scholarships and facility improvements. To date, more than $200,000 has been donated to the school.
The event is one of the biggest the city hosts each year, Precht said.
“For a long time it was the biggest event the city had,” he said. “There’s no doubt it does help the city by bringing people in. They buy food, ice, cold drinks and lots of meat for barbecuing.”
“It’s like a huge tailgate party and a reunion in one,” Segura said, adding that people used to park RVs in the park, pitch tents and camp out for the weekend.
Not even flooded fields, strong winds, cows on the outfield or injuries could keep teams from playing, he said.
“The games can get very competitive,” Segura said, recalling some stiff competition between his own family members. “People are just naturally competitive and when you have competitions like this, people are going to be competitive.”
He said Facebook has created a lot of “trash talk” among players this year.
The rookie class of 2013 has issued a challenge to the class of 2012, declaring they are “in it to win it” this year.
Gary, who has three brothers and sisters who are alumni, said there have been many arguments within his own family.
“But when it comes down to it, everyone just wants to have fun,” Precht said. “I don’t think Elliott Cassidy’s (class of 2004) team has ever won a game, but they love to celebrate when they have a run. Once you get out of the round-robin, you know you can’t make the championship, so it’s just about having fun.”
“Lose 2 and barbecue” was once the motto for Gary’s team.
During some players’ heyday many of their children were only old enough to watch. Today, those same children are taking to the fields.
“Our kids grew up going to the tournament, so when they were little they couldn’t wait to start playing,” Segura said. “Now they are playing. It’s almost like a rite of passage.”
Precht recalls that during the tournament’s first year, there were not enough players so many of the alumni’s children had to play so teams could have enough players.
Many of the alumni and their families also volunteer, cooking food, umpiring games and working concession stands.