Mike Crowley of Vision bats during the No Gloves National Tournament. (File photo)

It’s back! The No Gloves National 16-inch Softball Tournament will commence on the evening of July 22, featuring four teams competing for the final slots in the 24-team field. It will continue through the weekend, with the championship game on Sunday the 25th. No one is happier about the return of the tournament than Park District Executive Director Jackie Iovinelli.

Jackie recalled how heartbreaking it was to cancel what would have been the 52nd Annual tournament even though it was for the best. The games would have been played without food, fans, or cold beverages. The players would have been required to wear masks, and they would have been barred from their dugouts. “It would have destroyed the whole tradition of the event,” she said.

That was last summer. 

“This year, we hit the ground running at 100 mph,” she said, “The staff is excited, the players are excited, and the community is excited. Everything will be like 2019.” The food tents will be back serving tacos, rib sandwiches and chicken. The beer stands will be back dispensing Miller Lite products. Most importantly, premier softball will be played on The Park’s pristine fields.

Jackie and Grace Kenney are co-directors of the tournament. They also constituted the selection committee, which reviewed statistics for each team’s record in league and tournament play. Of the 23 teams selected, there are stalwarts like the 45’s, Signature, and Chicago Dynasty. “We’re also inviting younger teams, like YTD, to keep the sport alive,” Jackie said. “This is their dream!”

The long-range weather forecast is for cloudy and cool conditions, which would be ideal for players and spectators alike. They’re expecting the tournament to draw thousands of fans. Jackie likens the event to a giant “family reunion.” It will be even more special this year because members of the softball “family” haven’t seen each other in a long time.

The only change from past years is behind the scenes. “Mr. Stats,” who tirelessly compiled statistics for each game, has retired. Staff members will serve as scorekeepers and statisticians using a new software program to replace Mr. Stats’ manual methods. 

Besides the action on the fields, there will be plenty for kids to do at the pool and playground. They can also play pick-up games with the softballs they scrounge.

Jackie expects players and fans to respect the tournament’s family-friendly environment and show respect to residents. Of all the social gatherings the village hosts, No Gloves seems immune to rowdy behavior. Keeping the tournament running smoothly can be exhausting for park staff, including the busy grounds crews, but no one’s complaining. That’s because the pandemic was the greatest challenge they ever faced. 

They had to work twice as hard during the pandemic, Jackie recalled. They would spend months planning events, only to see them cancelled due to safety restrictions. 

“Facing the unexpected was so challenging, but we learned it’s OK to make changes. We became more adaptable and flexible.” 

For example, planning for the tournament usually starts in February. This year, they waited until May when they were certain it would be played. 

The pandemic also crystalized their mission at the park district. “People need to be in the parks,” Jackie said. “They need the health and wellness and socializing. We know the importance of what we do.” Of all the sporting events that were cancelled by COVID, the loss of the tournament hit closest to home. 

So this year’s No Gloves should be especially joyous. 

Even for teams who lose their first game and have to fight their way through the loser’s bracket.

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.