This year’s No Gloves National was the second time Jackie Iovinelli, director of the Park District of Forest Park, had taken on the challenge of staging the No Gloves National, which took place July 22-25.
Sunday morning when the tournament was beginning its sixth and final day, Iovinelli’s daughter asked her at breakfast, “Mom, what’s that on your face?”
The park director, after starting the previous day at 7:30 a.m. and finishing at 1 a.m. for the third day in a row, replied, “Honey, those are bags under my eyes.”
One reason she was exhausted, with yet one more day to go, was that she and her staff of 11 were putting on a tournament involving 24 teams with up to 4,000 fans watching the games and patronizing the concession stand each day while all of the park’s regular programing in the pool and Roos Center was still going on.
It was like little David taking on Goliath, except in this 53rd annual softball tourney, Goliath was not the enemy but thousands of fans and 240 players coming with high expectations for a quality event.
“It’s stressful because there are so many moving parts,” Iovinelli explained. “We have to make sure that the two games being played simultaneously are going well and the four teams in the next games are on deck and ready to go. We are responsible for the umpires and the scorekeepers, for the concession stand staying supplied with food and beer. It’s not just the high expectations but the sheer size of the event.”
The director takes very little credit for the event’s success. Her father, a Vietnam veteran, told her while she was involved in the Reserve Officer Training Corp (ROTC) in college, “When you put those second lieutenant’s bar on your shoulders, the first thing you need to do after being deployed is to sit down with your first sergeant and learn everything you can. They are the ones who make things happen.”
She relies on her staff members, in other words, who have far more experience with this park in general and with the tournament in particular.
When Iovinelli, who is in her third year as park director, heard what her staff was taking on every year being compared to running a marathon, she smiled and noted she has run seven marathons in Chicago alone and one Iron Man event in the hills of Kentucky — swimming 2.4 miles, biking 112 miles in 100-degree heat, and finishing by running a 26-mile marathon.
She knows, she said, what hitting a wall feels like, and a wall is what she and her staff hit at different times on Saturday after completing several 18-hour days, knowing they still had one more day to go.
When asked if she was motivated to take on the enormous challenge of a marathon because she is trying to win, she laughed and replied, “No, I do it for fun!”
She runs 26-mile marathons for fun!
And that’s another way the marathon analogy works for the investment of time and energy made by so many locals in the 16-inch softball tournament.
It’s exhausting, she explained, but it’s also a lot of fun.
It’s fun because her small staff is passionately committed to making the event deserve the title “National”. For instance, on Saturday evening it rained “buckets of water.” The rain began around 5 and stopped at 6. Ryan Russ told his boss that he and his grounds crew would have the field ready for games to resume by 7:30. They pulled it off.
Iovinelli kept repeating the word “passionate” to describe staff members Rachell Entler and Danette Krajewski, who were overseeing the event itself; Grace Kenney, who has been doing this for 20 years; and Andrew Doss, who attended tournaments in the area and sifted through thousands of league statistics to ensure that they would invite the 24 best teams in the region.
Plus the over 80 volunteers who put in a total of 300 hours staffing the concession stand and doing other tasks.
“Thank God for our volunteers,” Iovinelli exclaimed, “who are just as passionate as our staff members and who take pride in being Forest Parkers.”
And the board of commissioners — Cathleen McDermott, Matt Walsh, John Doss, Kristen Lyons, and Roy Sansone — who, along with their friends and neighbors, invested hundreds of unpaid hours in making the No Gloves Nationals a prestigious event.
Even more amazing, Iovinelli said, there were zero problems during the four days with a total attendance approaching 16,000. The police were a visible presence but basically had nothing to do. The only issue was one disputed call by an umpire.
The tournament was exhausting, she repeated, but it was fun. After a couple of nights with 10 hours of sleep, the director, her staff, the board, and the volunteers were already looking forward to the 54th Annual No Gloves Tourney next summer.
I came to Forest Park in 1982 when it was an unpretentious, no-nonsense German, shot-and-a-beer, blue-color village with small-town charm. The German part is no longer visible but the unpretentious character still is. We are no longer Oak Park’s poor step-sister where the residents of that then-dry town came here to drink.
Iovinelli, her staff, the board of commissioners and the six dozen volunteers exhibited a palpable passion and pride in Forest Park. We are no longer ashamed of our pragmatic, blue-color roots because over the last four decades we’ve also become a pretty classy community.