Fifteen hours of fun will kick off this Saturday morning, as The Park hosts the 9th Annual OK Classic. The event combines softball, kids’ games, football-watching, food and live music. The first pitch will be delivered at 7:30 a.m. and the last game will begin at 9 p.m. The Classic is a key fundraiser for Opportunity Knocks, the local nonprofit that provides opportunities and resources for people with developmental disabilities. Last year’s event raised over 10% of their annual budget of $816,000.

This year’s classic promises to be bigger and better. 

“We try to amp it up every year,” said OK President Phil Carmody. Admission is free and complimentary coffee will be available to fans, when the first of many 14-inch co-ed softball games begin, with 372 softball players on 20 teams competing and 120 volunteers on hand to keep the one-hour games running on schedule. Organizers are expecting 500 to 1,000 guests, as the crowds cycle in and out during the day. 

The competition will be interrupted at noon, for the day’s highlight: a softball game pitting the OK Warriors against the Bobcats of the West Suburban Special Recreation Association (WSSRRA). 

“It will be the focal point of the day,” said Carmody, “with fans surrounding the field.” PA announcer Kelly Widduch will keep things light with wisecracks from the booth. 

Softball, though, isn’t the only attraction. 

“We’re going to have a large kid’s area, with games, bounce houses, face painting and Halloween-themed crafts,” Carmody noted, “It’s a great way for us to introduce our mission to the kids.”

Meanwhile, adults can relax in a huge tent and watch college football. They can buy football squares and raffle tickets. They can also compete in backyard games like bean bags and horseshoes. New this year is a giant Jenga set to test construction skills. 

New vendors include Alpine Food Shop, the Original Ferrara Pan Bakery, Skrine Chops and Big Guys Sausage Stand. Lagunitas Brewery is another newcomer, along with Deep Eddy Vodka, serving cocktails. The food vendors will get some competition when the Restaurant Wars heat up. 

“There will be three teams, each with one local chef and one Warrior chef,” Carmody explained. “The host of ‘Chicago’s Best,’ Elliot Bambrough, will be the MC.” There will be chefs from the Kinderhook Tap, Robinson’s Ribs and Ted Hosty from Old School. Each team will make a dish with set ingredients. The panel of judges, consisting of a board member, staff member and Warrior (OK’s clients), will present an award for exceptional cooking. Warrior-made Knockout Pickles will be available to the chefs. “There will probably be some pickles in the recipe,” Carmody predicted. 

“Making pickles helps us in two ways,” Carmody said of their signature product. “It’s an expression of our vocational mission and an income source.” The organization launched another Warrior enterprise this year, which they hope will become self-sustainable. “Warrior Catering Company is brand new,” he said. “They just had their first gig, cooking for 80 people at a cocktail party.” 

“Catering with a cause shows the donors that we’re doing everything we can to support the program,” Carmody added. “The Warriors feel ownership, which is huge. The voice of the Warriors is key.”

In addition to the food and fun, the Classic will feature two bands: Fletcher Rockwell will take the stage at 4:30, followed by Andre Taylor and the Alley Cats at 6:30. 

The OK Classic began life, in 2007, as the KG Classic, honoring the life of Kathy Garrigan. “The family wanted to shift focus,” Carmody said, “but we still celebrate Kathy’s memory with the KG Fun Zone for kids.” Many of their original supporters still come to the Classic. 

“Everyone knows how important our events are,” said Carmody.

The fundraiser has always been held at The Park and wouldn’t be possible without the assistance of its staff. 

“They are incredible,” Carmody said. “They go above and beyond to be supportive. Larry Piekarz is one of our best supporters. He’s like a father figure to the organization.” 

Carmody’s only regret about the event is that he’s too busy to take the field. 

“I used to love playing softball but, by the end of the day, it will feel like I played.”

John Rice is a columnist/novelist who has seen his family thrive in Forest Park. He has published two books set in the village: The Ghost of Cleopatra and The Doll with the Sad Face.