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A wiffleball tournament for charity is coming to the West St. Paul Sports Complex on Saturday, June 3. Started in 2013, the tournament raises research money and disease awareness for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease.
Impact: “We’ve raised over $20,000 in total and generated awareness with several hundred participants,” said West St. Paul resident and tournament founder John Cronin, who started what has since become an important annual tradition when he was just 13.
Making a difference: “The ALS Association, where we donate all proceeds, funds 166 active research projects across the U.S. and abroad,” Cronin said. “Not only research, though—the proceeds from this tournament support vital care services for people and families actively living with ALS.”
How to play: There is a $50 donation to register a team for the tournament, but any teams under age 13 play for free. You can also make a direct donation through their website.
Connection to ALS
“In 2013, I learned my sister-in-law’s uncle, Michael Brandt, was living with ALS,” said Cronin. “At the time, my family had just built a wiffleball field in our backyard. So naturally, I created this tournament to support Michael and raise awareness for ALS. In 2015, I learned my high school math teacher, Steve Lufkin, was also living with ALS. He became a new inspiration. Both Michael and Steve encouraged me to continue my efforts, so we still play in honor of them to this day.”
The disease: ALS is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects a person’s muscles, slowly degrading them over time until they lose the abilities to walk, eat, and even breathe.
- There is currently no cure for ALS, and the life expectancy for someone diagnosed is two to five years.
- But the fundraising has made a difference: “There are six drugs currently approved by the FDA to treat ALS, including two approved in the past year, which is incredible progress!” said Cronin.
Today Cronin works as a development manager for the ALS Association.
The Wiffleball Tournament
The sport: Wiffleball is a simple game similar to baseball but with lightweight materials.
- Divisions: There’s a major and minor league, with the minors playing fun games in the morning and majors with a chance to advance to bracket play in the afternoon.
- Schedule: The day begins with the first pitch at 8:30 a.m. and then “pool play” from 9 a.m. to noon, with each team playing three rounds. Then the single-match elimination begins, and the last team standing is crowned the champion.
- Fun for all ages: “This is a slow pitch tournament with no walks, making it accessible for all ages,” Cronin said. “We’ve seen teams of 8-year-olds take down high school baseball players.”
- Rules: See a full list of rules and regulations.
Connected to a Larger Community
“Interestingly, there is a strong wiffleball community in the Twin Cities,” Cronin said. “We are home to the largest wiffleball league in the world, the HRL Twin Cities Wiffleball League. Many teams from that league support the cause and play each year. The reason we play on June 3rd is to line up with Major League Baseball’s ‘Lou Gehrig Day.’”
- Lou Gehrig Day is a league-wide day designated for ALS awareness, named after the New York Yankee’s first baseman Henry Louis Gehrig, who succumbed to his battle against ALS in 1941.
- The Minnesota Twins play their game for Lou Gehrig Day on June 2nd. “We try to match up to make it a special weekend,” said Cronin.
More: Visit the ALS Wiffleball Tournament to register or donate.
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(Photos courtesy of John Cronin.)