ASHLAND, Ky. (KT) – The combination of a throwback to a childhood game full of memories and a worthy mission cause have led to an event in northeastern Kentucky that keeps growing bigger.
The Amy For Africa organization will welcome 40 teams to its sixth annual Amy For Africa Wiffle Ball Tournament on Saturday at Unity Baptist Church in Ashland.
Kentucky Baptist Amy Compston, the namesake and co-founder of the mission and a member of First Baptist Church in Russell, said the tournament that touches the heartstrings of competitors has brought in nearly $20,000 in the first five years.
“It’s something that we do in the community that everybody has gotten behind,” she said. “It’s been fun and our most consistent one-day fundraiser. The lives that have been touched by this tournament are untold.”
The tournament takes competitors back to their childhood days of playing Wiffle ball in their neighborhood with friends.
“We have a lot of men reliving some of those ‘glory days,’” Compston said with a wink while making air quotes.
However, the tournament is for all ages and men, women and children participate.
Sam Beason, the tournament manager and field creator, has more fun than anybody. He manicures and builds two fields on the corner lot of the Ashland church into a Wiffle ball paradise. One of the fields is a replica of Boston’s Fenway Park, complete with a Green Monster. The other field, which resembles Camden Yard in Baltimore, uses the church office as its warehouse backdrop.
Teams are guaranteed two games, one on each field, whether they win or lose. However, only the team that wins every game walk away as champion.
There are some unique rules, including pitching to your own team and nobody running the bases. Games are three innings with no more than six runs allowed per inning.
Beason, a member of Unity Baptist Church and a high school math teacher, posts signs with the exact distances on the outfield walls, has huge yellow foul poles on both fields and a flagpole with an American is behind the center field fence of the “Green Monster” field.
“This is like a dream job for me,” he said. “We would build fields all the time when I was younger, but nothing to this level. This is one of my favorite weeks all year.”
Forty four-person teams, the biggest field in the six-year history of the tournament, signed up to play within two weeks of registration opening.
“This has become big, something people start to plan around,” said Beason. “That’s what we wanted, for everybody to have such a good experience they want to come back.”
Home runs fly out of the two fields by the dozens, further fueling the “feel good” vibes from participants who, if they’re honest, were giddy about hitting one more Wiffle ball home run.
“We’ve had a 4-year-old hit a home run and a 67-year-old, and a lot in between,” Beason said.
So far, though, only one home run has been hit by a female. That came two years ago when Brittnany Hoback drilled a pair of them in one game.
“We stopped the game after the first one and signed the ball for her to keep,” Beason said. “It was a big moment.”
This year the field includes the Ashland Police Department, Boyd County Sheriff’s Office and state Sen. Robin Webb’s team - the Rockin’ Robins – is playing in it for the first time.
Team names are, of course, part of the fun. Greek Wiffology, One-Hit Wonders and All About That Base are three of the more creative ones.
The emphasis is on fun and a festive atmosphere includes a Bounce House for the kids and a free-for-all water balloon battle with 1,000 balloons. Lots of good food is also available.
There is also a Home Run Derby, which usually attracts about 40 participants, that is open to anyone.
“It’s one of my favorite days of the year,” said Matt Fultz, who owns a local Kona Ice franchise and sponsors the tournament every year.
Compston said at the end of the day those being served through the Amy For Africa mission are the biggest winners.