No one is happier about the return of the No Glove Nationals tournament than the Park District’s Executive Director, Jackie Iovinelli.
She recalled how heartbreaking it was to cancel what would have been the 52nd Annual tournament in 2020, but 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,” Iovinelli said.
But, 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 products. Most importantly, premier softball will be played on The Park’s pristine fields.
Jackie and Grace Kenney are the co-directors of the tournament. They also constituted the selection committee. They reviewed statistics for each team’s record in league and tournament play.
Of the 23 teams they 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,” Iovinelli 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.
Iovinelli likens the tournament 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 the 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 pickup games with the softballs they scrounge.
Iovinelli expects players and fans to respect the tournament’s family friendly environment and show respect to residents. Wearing masks is optional for the fans. It is assumed that fans without masks have already received their vaccines.
Keeping the tournament running smoothly can be exhausting for the park district staff, including the busy grounds crews but no one’s complaining. That’s because the pandemic was the greatest challenge they ever faced.
Iovinelli recalled they had to work twice as hard during the pandemic. They would spend months planning events, only to see them cancelled at the last minute due to safety restrictions.
“Facing the unexpected was so challenging, but we learned it’s OK to make changes,” Iovinelli said. “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 the mission of the park district.
“People need to be in the parks,” Iovinelli 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-19, the loss of the tournament hit closest to home. So, this year’s No Gloves Nationals should be especially joyous. Even for teams who lose their first game and have to fight their way through the loser’s bracket.