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Thursday, August 26th, 2010

Coldwater softball tourney remembered

Last Curtain Call

By Robb Hemmelgarn
Lou Brunswick's face still illuminates like an amusement park if you strike up a conversation about baseball.
For almost 70 years, the Ohio High School Baseball Hall of Fame coach has had his fingerprints all over the sport in west central Ohio. His legacy with Coldwater's high school baseball program is mythical.
He was also the backbone of the state-wide ACME summer baseball series, where he helped guide the Cavaliers to nearly 1,000 more wins.
One less familiar facet of the game, which has long since passed, was his integral role in a summer softball tournament that kicked off its 30-year existence in Coldwater 50 summers ago this month.
"Back then, I ran things at the park in the summer and there was a void in the schedule for most of August," recalled Brunswick, who at nearly 80-years-old, still recalls those days like they were just minutes ago. "We always put so much work and money into the baseball field, and once the spring and ACME seasons were over it was a shame to do nothing with it, so I decided to start a slow pitch softball tournament."
With similar happenings in Celina and Fort Recovery, Brunswick knew that in order to attract some of the best teams in the area, he had to select a weekend that coincided with the others. He settled on August before the school year and fall sports seasons began.
"In the beginning, we just had eight teams and it all started on a Monday night," he pointed out. "It was a great opportunity for families to go out and have a lot of fun - the men would play softball, their wives watched, and the kids were all out playing in the park. After the first couple of years, the tournament really began to take off."
In the inaugural year, a team from Egypt (located west of Minster) - led by Floyd and Jim Winner - took the gold trophy and in the following years, Sanning's Service Station, Kite and Kate's Restaurant and the Top Hats dominated the action before groups from Dayton and Cincinnati began to help the tournament blossom.
"Every year, there were outstanding softball players that could hit the ball a mile," Brunswick chuckled. "Paul Droesch, Linus Hartings, Herb Brackman and Ken Wilker, were all locals that just loved to play softball and they played on some good teams."
In its prime, the tournament ballooned to 52 teams, despite sharing the month of August with the MDA tournament at Memorial Park for nearly 20 years.
"In the later years, I began to keep detailed statistics of the tournament," commented Brunswick, referring to his yellow, spiral-bound notebook which still serves as the tournament's historical bible. "We gave out awards for the winning teams obviously, but also for the most home runs in the tournament, the most valuable players, batting champions, and things like that. In 1969, we added a senior division to the tournament and the whole thing lasted close to two weeks before it was all said and done."
In 1992, the final tournament took place with South Side Inn grabbing the title, while Mercer Beverage's Jim Lefeld was crowned the batting champion.
"After I retired from coaching and teaching, the tournament just sort of stopped," Brunswick explained with a tone of disappointment in his voice. "I had so much fun with it and I know a lot of the guys who used to play in it did too - they still talk about those days. I ran a lot of it myself, but through the years I always knew the same teams would return with a few new ones and we always had the same umpires - Rocky Bernard, Bud Bruns, Romie Elking, Fritz Heyne and George Heitkamp. Knowing all of this wasn't going to change much year after year made it easy on me. It was always neat to see all of the local teams and players come out and play. Even when teams came from farther away, it was still like a big family reunion every year. It was a great way to end the summer before football and school started up in the fall and it is really a shame it ever had to end."
Additional online story on this date
ST. MARYS - Some kids think they've probably used up all the real opportunities they'll ever get, but not necessarily. The Opportunity for Youth (OFY) program in Auglaize County is all about giving kids another chance, according to program director Chuck Rowen. [More]
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