Volunteers at the food tent at the 55th No Gloves 16 Inch Softball Tournament on Friday July 28, 2023 | Todd Bannor

Once you get Roy Sansone talking about the Park District of Forest Park (PDOFP), after a minute or two you’ll have the distinct impression he loves the place, every inch of it — from the Roos Center in the shadow of the Circle Bridge to the No Gloves museum just east of Desplaines Avenue.

Sansone has started his fourth 6-year term as park commissioner and was out there Thursday in the 90-degree heat working on the grill line. His affection for The Park was shared by the 100-plus volunteers who made the tournament happen.

Sandy Byrnes has volunteered at the No Gloves Tourney for 30 years. She showed her affection for both The Park and the tournament by making two quilts, one of which was given to Larry Piekarz when he retired as park director and the other, made from 45 No Gloves T-shirts, was raffled off in a fundraiser.

Three of the four guys — Dave Novak, Bob Dowdle and Cliff Evitt — working the grills in the 90-degree heat last Thursday have logged a total of 66 years cooking sausages, hamburgers, chicken and tacos in the back of the concessions tent. 

Cliff’s son, Trevor Reis-Evitt, said he was “in his mother’s stomach” when he came to his first tournament. Following in his father’s footsteps, this was his second year on the grill line. Dad has specialized in making tacos.

Dowdle said one reason they keep coming back to volunteer every year is that they all have fun. He turned from his grill, mopped his forehead with a towel and said, “It actually is fun with the guys back here on the grills and listening to some music. If you come back tomorrow, you’ll get a joke out of Joe Byrnes. He’s the resident comedian.”

Motivation for the thousands who attend the tournament every year is partly to watch quality 16-inch softball games but also to meet longtime friends at what Karrie Schlichting, the PDOFP volunteer coordinator, referred to as an annual “village family reunion.”

Novak explained that if you scan the hundreds of people in the stands, only half of them will be watching the game. The other half will be catching up on what’s been going on with longtime friends who keep coming back year after year. 

Rachelle Richmond, who has been volunteering for 33 years, often kept score for the games, but this year, she was selling tickets. The way payment for the beer and food is handled at the event is that tickets, a dollar apiece, are sold in one spot and used to pay for food and drinks. A beer, for example, costs five tickets. 

Admission to the games is free, but PDOFP makes money by selling a lot of beer, food and souvenir items like T-shirts and mugs.

The heat did not seem to bother the volunteers. Sandy Byrnes said the vols who have been doing the tournament for many years have been through rain, heat, a storm or two and even cold. Novak laughed and said that on the days when it was cold, the heat from the grills felt pretty good.

Reis-Evitt shrugged off concerns about the heat saying, “I worked at the Junction Diner for almost 10 years. In the kitchen the temperature would get up to 115 degrees. I’m used to doing a lot of sweating.”

As if to put an exclamation mark on the Thursday evening weather talk, a Friday night storm swept through Forest Park with winds strong enough to rip the tenting covering the concession area and blow it two blocks away. Iovinelli recalled thinking she was seeing a war zone as she drove down Harrison Street on Saturday morning.

The maintenance crew had covered the infields with tarps before the rain came, so they were dry. Many pitched in, including the Public Works Department, members from the tournament teams, and neighbors, all of whom cleaned up, reorganized, and brought The Park “back to normal” by 11 a.m.

Novak, the parks’ executive director from 1974 till 2007, when asked what it was like to go from the “general” coordinating the many details of such an undertaking to being “demoted” to grilling sausages, replied, “It’s great! It takes a lot of pressure off. I don’t have all the headaches.”

Without mentioning her name, the former executive director was giving an indirect compliment to Jackie Iovinelli who is currently in that position. During the four-day tournament, Iovinelli, the commissioners and her staff don’t get much sleep because “the buck really does stop with them.”

They couldn’t pull off a major event like the No Gloves Nationals without the volunteers, and the volunteers couldn’t do it without leadership.

Although the volunteers aren’t paid, they are rewarded with something more than satisfaction and fun. “When the volunteers arrive,” explained Iovinelli, “they receive a merchandise T-shirt from this year’s tournament and 20 tickets to use at the event to buy food and drink while enjoying great softball. 

“Our grillers also receive a nice apron!”