Korby's Corner: A tournament for AshleyCloquet’s annual Ashley Abrahamson Memorial softball tournament is – without debate – the most organized, professional and well-run event I’ve taken part in over my years involved with softball.
By: Tyler Korby, Pine Journal
CLOQUET – Coaching competitive softball for the past three summers, I continuously fill my gas tank and purchase hotel rooms as my teams and I travel the state to play in weekend tournaments.
Yet, the best one I’ve seen requires little gas and I get to sleep in my own bed.
Cloquet’s annual Ashley Abrahamson Memorial softball tournament is – without debate – the most organized, professional and well-run event I’ve taken part in over my years involved with softball.
For the past half a dozen years, I have served as a coach and an umpire in the weekend full of memories. Sure, it’s nice to stay in town every now and then, but this tourney is for real.
This past weekend was the 13th year of the event in memory of my classmate and friend, Ashley Abrahamson, a three-sport, student-athlete who was sadly killed in a car accident in Illinois in 2000.
Created and directed by Ron Tondryk and his daughter, Sarah Wondrasek, the Ashley tournament is like no other. Not only are all teams guaranteed a host of games over the weekend, but a parade of teams is held Saturday and the Ashley Award is given out Sunday.
I’ve stood on the field during the parade and awards to honor Ashley. The atmosphere is surreal. Teams form two or three rows around the diamond, and smiles – and a few tears –fill the park.
The cheers heard when one’s team or name is announced is always supportive. And sportsmanship is key.
Even the rules encourage sportsmanship and participation. Teams can bat their entire roster and have free substitution. Most tournaments I attend, coaches are screaming and rosters are limited size.
Even the field workers seem like they go nonstop. Playing a tournament of 70 or so games in two days on five diamonds means that maintenance workers – mostly volunteers – are constantly raking, chalking and even watering fields in between competition. I never see that in the Cities. Honestly.
The schedule is coordinated correctly and scores are marked efficiently. Concessions sales are speedy and people are friendly.
Ron and Sarah make sure to greet all at check-in, while they also take time to enjoy the atmosphere with the Abrahamson family.
That leads me into Ashley’s parents, Jim and Kathy Abrahamson. They are all about the kids. Every year they give all of the players a gift. A water bottle or T-shirt come to mind. A bag was given this year.
I always give Jim a handshake and Kathy a hug. Likely two. They are so sincere, not only to people they know, but others as well.
That’s what makes this tournament unlike any other. It’s not about the wins and losses or who qualifies or who doesn’t. It’s not about coordinating your best lineup all of the time or taking home the title.
It’s about taking home memories. It’s about playing in honor of a girl who loved the game. It’s about taking the field for Ashley.
It’s been two seasons since I have umpired the event, now I have taken over as a coach instead. Whether wearing my blue umping garb, or blue coaching polo, I always have my calendar marked for the hometown
And no, it’s not because I save gas and can sleep at home. It’s because it’s my favorite tournament of the summer.
And it is a time to remember my classmate, Ashley.