From the Ashland (OH) Times-Gazette:
Megan Pflume of “The Pirates” attempts to throw out Andrew Stein of “The Spartans” during the high school tournament at Wifflefest at Southview Grace Brethren Church Friday, July 1, 2011.
By MATT STRAYER
With a record-setting 34 teams entering the Wifflefest XII High School Tournament, defending the championship Team Livestrong won last year would be like finding a needle in a haystack — twice.
Especially when it’s a task made all that much harder with distractions like the get-up worn by Whiffle While We Work: bright yellow shirts, suspenders, neckties, sport coats and all.
Maybe that’s why Team Livestrong started practicing for its defense two weeks ago.
“The high school kids, of course … they not only take it really seriously, we kind of chuckle at the kids that have been practicing,” said Elaine Hess, one of Wifflefest’s main organizers. “Even though they’ve played every year, they’re practicing for two weeks beforehand. They are here to get things done.”
Even though Friday night’s High School Tournament at Southview Grace Brethren Church ended way after the Times-Gazette’s deadline — most said it would probably not finish up until 3 o’clock in the morning or later — Team Livestrong and Whiffle While We Work were busy establishing their presence during pool play with 16-0 and 10-0 victories, respectively.
Team Livestrong pitcher Drew Delaney, one of three members of last year’s team back for another Wifflefest along with Tyson Vogel and Nick Barker, was settling in for what he hoped would be a long night. The fifth member of the team, Greg Gallaway, joined the enemy’s camp after losing to Team Livestrong in last year’s championship game with Big Al $wagga$hop.
“It’s awesome,” Delaney said. “You wake up early the next morning anyway for holiday stuff, but I’ll do it every day. Being here at 3 o’clock (in the morning) with the lights on and still about 100 people just hanging around, it’s a great feeling.”
But the defending champs and Snow-White-and-the-Seven-Dwarfs lookalikes — who were comprised of Cooper Moretz, Michael Breed, Jordan Blair and AJ Snell — weren’t the only ones making spectacular plays.
Gabe Miller of Ace of Spades jacked a home run over the 97-foot left-field fence at Jacobs Field, a one-third scale replica of the Cleveland Indians’ home stadium, and Ryan Marquette of Meow Mix made a diving catch in center field.
“This tournament, it’s just a fun time for everyone,” Moretz said. “Thirty-four teams, it’s obviously grown since the first year. Hopefully it gets bigger and bigger. It’s a good time for the community.”
“It’s tough (to win the title),” said Mark Abel, Wifflefest founder and senior pastor of Southview Grace Brethren Church, which has hosted Wifflefest since 2000. “You got some teams that really know how to play ball. Speed kills, as John Madden says. You’ve got some fast runners.”
Some squads came from as far as Wadsworth, Fredericktown and Lucas for the annual Fourth of July weekend staple.
Hess said organizers decided they would cap the entrants at 34 since the event already was going to stretch into the wee hours of the morning. They ended up naming the 34th team to enter — a walk-on which didn’t already have a moniker — appropriately as The Lucky Ones.
Actually, 35 teams signed up, but one backed out after The Lucky Ones entered to allow Meow Mix into the tournament as the new 34th squad.
“We were able to accommodate everyone who wanted to play,” Hess said. “That’s our goal. We want to be able to do that. It’s just hard when you’re changing schedules at the last minute, but everybody got in.”
While Abel said Wifflefest has been blessed to have the community’s and church’s support, he said the goal is never to merely add more people and teams.
“It’s gotten so big where people think our goal is to get bigger and bigger, and our goal is not,” he said. “Our goal is just to continue to provide a quality community outreach. We don’t want the size of it to affect what we can put out. But we don’t want to turn people away, either. Our goal remains the same to glorify our Savior by providing this event for this awesome Independence (Day) weekend.
“But it is cool to be able to say you’ve got over 100 teams. You can’t take that away.”
The event continues through Monday, with the Elementary Tournament today (8:30 a.m. start); the Family Tournament on Sunday (1 p.m. start); and the Adult Tournament on Monday (8:30 a.m.). Walk-up teams are welcome.