Ashley Abrahamson Memorial turns in another hitFrom slapping high-fives with the opposing teams, enjoying family time and winning her final game on Sunday afternoon, Cloquet’s Jys Benko got to play in her first Ashley Abrahamson Memorial softball tournament last weekend. The 11-year-old loved it all.
By: Tyler Korby, Pine Journal
CLOQUET – From slapping high-fives with the opposing teams, enjoying family time and winning her final game on Sunday afternoon, Cloquet’s Jys Benko got to play in her first Ashley Abrahamson Memorial softball tournament last weekend. The 11-year-old loved it all.
“I can’t ask for too much more,” said Benko, a sixth-grader-to-be in the fall. “One of my teammates said it was always a dream of hers to play in it. I like it more than other tournaments. It’s a lot of fun.”
Benko is one of an estimated 3,000 girls who have played in the event, held in memory of Cloquet’s Ashley Abrahamson – a talented three-sport, student-athlete who loved to play softball, basketball and volleyball – who was killed in a car accident in Illinois in 2000.
Last weekend’s 25-team, dual division tournament at Cloquet’s Braun Park was one of the largest in the 13-year history of the event, according to tournament director Sarah Wondrasek.
Good friends, neighbors and teammates of Ashley’s before the accident, Sarah and her father, Ron Tondryk, created the tournament in Ashley’s honor. Tondryk and his daughter directed things again last weekend, accepting rosters, posting scores and ultimately, watching young female athletes play ball.
“I think that’s one of the best parts of this all, is watching 300 some kids play every year in memory of Ashley and who she was,” said Tondryk, who coached Abrahamson growing up. “Whether it was the classroom, basketball court or softball field, Ashley always worked hard and loved to play sports. She was a great kid. If you told her to throw 50 pitches, she would go home and throw 100 with her dad, Jim.”
Ashley’s parents Jim and Kathy Abrahamson, along with their family, were again on hand all weekend watching games, giving hugs and enjoying the event. Older brother Steve threw out the ceremonial first pitch during the parade of teams and the Ashley Award was again given to one girl from every team. As always, Jim and Kathy also gave all participating players a gift, this year it was a drawstring bag in the design of a softball.
“I want to give a huge thanks to Jim and Kathy,” said Tondryk about his close friends. “They always do so much for those kids.”
Throughout the tournament, Kathy credited Ron and Sarah for their hard work and wished the girls to have fun. Tondryk said the parade of teams and Ashley Award are the climax of the weekend event.
“You don’t see those things at the Minnesota state softball tournament,” said Tondryk, who coached Cloquet High School softball to its first state trip since 2002 this spring. “I don’t think there is another tournament like this around the area and, arguably, around the state.
“The Ashley Award is the highlight of the tournament,” Tondryk continued. “It’s for those who represent who Ashley was.”
Benko, who plays every position, said she enjoyed watching the Ashley Awards Sunday afternoon because she wasn’t sure who was going to win. The upcoming middle school student spent time with her family, too, and said the parade of teams Saturday was neat.
“We got to run out there with our team and high-five the other teams,” said Benko, a 12-and-Under division player for Cloquet’s Sammy Pizza. “There were a lot of teams there. Those things are fun.”
Benko’s squad is younger and less experienced than most. Of their six games over the two-day event, they won their last one in a one-run thriller against South Ridge. Following the victory, players stormed towards head coach Merle Kelley with smiles from ear to ear.
“Everything we had been working on came together,” said Kelley, whose daughter Vanna is also on the team. “It was the icing on the cake.”
The win awarded Cloquet Sammy’s Pizza the consolation prize in the U-12 Tier 2 division, while Cloquet Outdoor Advantage won the championship and Hermantown Farmers Insurance placed runner-up.
In the U-12 Tier 1 bracket, Grand Rapids won it all, upsetting International Falls by coming back in the final inning. Superior was the consolation winner. In U-14, Grand Rapids went unbeaten to the title with the Twin Ports Rampage claiming second and International Falls cruising to the consolation victory Sunday afternoon.
Results aside, Wondrasek said the tournament was another success.
“The whole point of this all is to get girls out there and play,” she said. “It seems like they really have fun. It makes me miss the game.”
Wondrasek, a 2005 Cloquet graduate who now resides in the Twin Cities with her husband, Evan, has made the trip up north every year and hopes to continue the drive every June to honor her close friend.
“I enjoy doing this,” said Wondrasek, who will be posting results, photos and videos on the tournament website this week. “It’s something I don’t want to give up soon. I’d like to see it keep going.”
Also featuring a hot dog eating contest, bake sales and radar gun contest amongst the competitive games and awards, Kelley agreed.
“They do an awesome job,” Coach Kelley said of Ron and Sarah. “We played games, but in between you would see kids talking with kids from the other teams. It was a great experience. We had a blast.”
Just like Benko.