This year, when the weary walkers at the Relay For Life finish up their ceremonies commemorating both those lost to the nation’s battle with cancer and those who have survived the disease, a new group is pitching its plan to take up the torch and continue fundraising through a two-day softball tournament.
“When they finish up Saturday morning, we are going to kick off the Swing for Life Tournament,” said Sheri Ladd, owner of the Harrison Street Cafe and the tournament’s organizer. “It is a two-day tournament, double elimination.”
The tournament, the first of its kind in Forest Park, is for women only and features a two-game minimum guarantee for all teams involved in this fast-paced two-day 14-inch softball tournament.
As with the Relay for Life, all proceeds will go towards helping raise funds for the American Cancer Society, which will in turn use the money to fund patient services and much needed research initiatives.
“Generally what teams do is they get together prior to Relay and raise funds,” said Amie Hadjis, with the American Cancer Society. “This is a more extravagant fundraiser but definitely something we are very excited about.”
Ladd said the idea for a 14-inch, women only tournament has been in the back of her mind for quite some time now, but she needed a good cause to devote the tournament to.
“I have wanted to do a women’s tournament for years,” Ladd said. “I have had a couple of family members we have lost to cancer, I have lost a grandmother, we have had some girlfriends who have been diagnosed with breast cancer. When my [last family member] got diagnosed I think that is what sewed it up. If I was going to play for any organization it was going to be that.”
Ladd said when the last diagnosis in her family was revealed”a close relative of hers was told he had prostate cancer”she finally decided to act.
But battles with cancer aren’t the only reason this determined restaurant owner is putting this tournament together. She said part of the reason is her passion for the game itself and a need in the community for an outlet for women’s only softball tournaments.
Ladd has been an active participant in the Sunday Night Women’s League in Forest Park and has also played in a South Side league in Chicago for a number of years, but said finding competitive tourneys is difficult for women’s teams.
“There are women’s softball teams, but softball tournaments, there are none,” she said. “If we get to play in maybe one, maybe two tournaments all season, we are lucky and we really have to hunt and search those out. With women’s softball just now starting to go professional I think there is a big need. Anything with coed or anything with men is usually a given, but there isn’t much for just women.”
In fact, Ladd has been playing ball since she was nine and says she has always just loved to play.
“The smell of the grass, the smell of the dirt, the competition, the competitiveness and yet the individualism you can have since you are competing against yourself to be a better ball player” are what Ladd says motivates her to keep playing and to keep creating opportunities for tournament play.
This year will be the tournament’s inaugural year and is the result of a joint effort between the Park District of Forest Park, which will be donating the playing fields and operating a grill during the event, and Ladd’s Harrison Street Café.
In addition, Lois Calderone, Mayor Anthony Calderone’s wife, will be MC of the event and will also throw out the opening pitch.
To make the tournament, scheduled for August 13 and 14, a reality, however, Ladd says she needs at least eight teams to sign up and many more sponsors.
“We are looking for sponsors and girls who want to play individually,” Ladd said, explaining that the women who sign up individually will be assigned to a team. “If they have a team that will be great.”
Registration for the tournament is $25 per person or $375 per team, with anywhere between 10 and 15 players on each team.
Sponsorships for the event run from $50 for a booklet to $200 for a banner. Pinwheels are also being sold for $5 at the Harrison Street Café.
The pinwheels are being sold to commemorate those lost to cancer and those who have survived the disease and will be displayed during the tournament.
Interested players can sign up at the Harrison Street Café, 7330 Harrison St., by asking for Ladd or for Kate Scotty. They may also contact the Park District of Forest Park at 366-7500.
For Ladd, however, the bottom line is a passion for the sport, combined with a genuine desire to make a difference in a war that has, in her words, probably touched her family more than they thought.