Though the annual Forest Park Invitational 16-inch softball tournament will soon come and go again, softball fever in town will not end along with it.

That’s because on Aug. 12, Harrison Street Café owner Sherri Ladd will host her second annual “Swing for Life” women’s softball tournament at the Park District of Forest Park’s softball fields.

While last year’s tournament complemented the annual “Relay for Life” fundraiser for the American Cancer Society, this year funds raised will benefit Hugs not Drugs, an anti-drug youth group Ladd and Forest Park Youth Commission Chairperson Mary Win Connor began in March and have watched grow steadily ever since.

“You don’t need to be an all star to play. We’re just raising money so that we can touch as many of these kids’ lives as possible and let them have a good, positive experience,” said Ladd. The cost to sign up is $25 per player or $375 per team.

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. She said that organizing a women’s softball tournament has been a dream of hers for nearly 20 years.

“Last year, everyone at the park district was really impressed with the talent and how well organized it was,” she said. Along with the tournament, there will also be a barbeque during which food and drinks will be sold to benefit the youth group, as well as a raffle tent staffed by members of the youth group.

Forming an anti-drug youth group is a more recent dream for Ladd, brought on when she learned that the village’s D.A.R.E. program had been eliminated several years ago due to budget constraints. She soon started the group, striving for a more interactive and fun oriented format than D.A.R.E., which mostly consists of police officers visiting classrooms to lecture and has been proven mostly unsuccessful in numerous government and private studies.

The members, who must pledge to stay away from drugs and alcohol in order to join, embark on everything from fishing trips with the Forest Park Police Department to trips to Great America and other popular attractions. The catch is that they must work to help fund these activities.

“They want to do all these great things, and we tell them OK, now let’s figure out how we’re going to pay for it,” said Ladd. Aside from the softball tournament, which Ladd hopes will exceed last year’s total of $5,000 raised, fundraisers have included a pancake breakfast at the Park and a car wash.

She says she now gets around 40 kids at each meeting, including her own five-year-old twins. The police department has become increasingly involved with the group, even recently bringing along police canine Sam to show off some of his tricks.

Ladd said she hopes to provide productive experiences to kids whose lives might otherwise be filled with negative influences. “There’s one girl, I think nine years old, who comes every month and then goes to get her mom from the bar afterward. We can’t stop her mom from drinking but maybe we can give her something to do,” she said.

Ladd said she and Connor pick up several kids whose parents are unable or unwilling to bring them to meetings each month.

Another benefit, Connor said, is that the kids build lasting relationships with police officers through their participation.

“The kids get to know them, and it’s not just ‘oh, that’s a cop,’ it’s ‘hey, I remember you.’ And then for the cops it might be ‘hey, I remember you too, but you really shouldn’t be doing that,'” she said.

The softball tournament will be double elimination, meaning that each team is guaranteed to play in at least two games. In addition, Ladd said, there will be a coed exhibition game with players from both the tournament and the police department participating.

The tournament is scheduled for Aug. 12, but could extend to Aug. 13 if enough teams sign up to participate, according to Ladd.

Those who cannot play in the tournament but wish to contribute in other ways can sponsor a banner for $200, a booklet for $50, or a tournament T-shirt for $100. Organizers are also looking for volunteer scorekeepers, umpires and raffle workers.

More information on the tournament and opportunities to participate is available by calling Ladd at Harrison Street Café at 366-6633. Anyone interested can also drop off donations of any dollar amount at the restaurant, located at 7330 Harrison St., or at various businesses throughout Forest Park.