By GIB SNYDER III
OBSERVER Sports Reporter
The Fourth Annual Nathan George Foundation Softball Tournament will be held the second weekend in August and Mike Cerrie and the other 11 tournament committee members are still hard at work putting it all together.
Mike Cerrie, center, a founding member of the Nathan George Foundation, is shown with Nathan’s parents, Dave, left and Sandy, right, at last year’s fundraising spaghetti dinner. The fourth Nathan George Foundation Softball Tournament is set for the second weekend in August, in the city of Dunkirk.
"Right now, we're in the process of meeting two times a month," Cerrie said. "We were meeting monthly since November. We've been through this before. We're just putting on the finishing touches for the tournament. We've already got the insurance all lined up, which is required by the (City of Dunkirk) and we've already gotten approval from the city to have the tournament there and from (Dunkirk City School District) to have the tournament there."
Missing from this year's committee is Morgan Seegert, the then girlfriend of George, who lost his life in May 2009 driving home from the Kentucky Derby. Seegert, who spearheaded the idea for a tournament as means to carry on George's name, decided to take a step back this time around.
"She just felt it was time to move on," Cerrie said of Seegert's decision to step down. "She's a big reason why we are where we're at today."
No matter who is on board, Cerrie knows why the tournament has been as successful as it's been since its inception in September 2009.
"I think it's a combination of a couple different factors," Cerrie said. "First and foremost it's the community. The community is just great for supporting things like this. You look at all the successes we have for chicken barbecues for this cause and that cause. And secondly, Nathan, as an individual, was very well liked in the area. And then the people that we've got involved and not only are we giving scholarships, but we donated money to the Dunkirk (Sports Booster Club), we've given scholarships to Silver Creek, we've given scholarships to Fredonia and Brocton.
"We also buy everything that we use in the tournament from around here," Cerrie continued. "Our insurance is from Lawley Tradition Insurance Agency, our signs are through Hae Jude, so we try to stay local. All of the money we bring in, we try to give back to the local community, so it's good for everyone who is involved."
Cerrie did note, however, that the committee is still looking for sponsors for teams.
"You don't have to put a team in," Cerrie said. "You just need to make sure you get your business' name into us before July 17 and you will get a sponsorship and you'll be in our programs."
Last year, the tournament had 23 teams, and this year, Cerrie believes that capping the entries at 24 is the most reasonable thing to do.
"We're still looking for teams up until July 17," Cerrie said. "We have to cut it off a month before to get the T-shirts done and the artwork. We're trying to cap it at 24. That seems to be the sensible number to use in order to get (the tournament) done in an orderly fashion."
The softball tournament is not the only thing on the foundation's agenda. During the winter, it helped out the families of two area residents who lost their lives - Randy Cooper and Jeff Roberts.
"In such a short period of time we hooked up with an RO Foundation and had a spaghetti dinner down at the Moose Club that was wildly successful," Cerrie said. "And then we also had a comedy night over at 41 West that we could only sell 100 tickets for and we sold them out very quickly. That was a fun night just to raise some money and help out one of our sponsors in 41 West. They've been very supportive of us."
The growth of the tournament and the new responsibilities the foundation has taken on has allowed it to expand its ability to help students from the local communities.
"There becomes more responsibility," Cerrie said. "We gave a scholarship to Fredonia again this year, but we added on Silver Creek and we added Brocton. So I presented the award at Fredonia and at Silver Creek.
"With the growth of the tournament and the growth of the other things that we're doing, like the spaghetti dinner for the Roberts' and Cooper families, and the comedy night, there is more responsibility. But we've got a nice group of people that are working for us that are willing to put in the extra hours."
From where it began, to where it is now, Cerrie never thought, in his wildest dreams, that the Foundation would have grown into what it is today.
"The first year we did it, Nate passed in May and we had a tournament in September," Cerrie noted. "And that first year was so successful and after having a year to plan for it, we've held the course and gotten better each year."
Back this year will be the baseball clinic, the day care services provided by Brooke Incitto's Pride and Joy Day Care, as well as a bounce house for the children. Also making it back into this year's tournament is the Toilet Bowl championship for the loser's bracket.
"That was a lot of fun and a lot of people who played in that loved it, because there are some competitive teams, and there's people who are just there for the day," Cerrie said. "And no one likes to lose one game and go home, and they really enjoyed that. That was the biggest change we made last year that everyone enjoyed."
With time running out on this year's preparations, there is one thing that Cerrie knows - George would appreciate everything that has been done in his name.
"I think he'd be overwhelmed, but knowing Nate's sense of humor, I think he would probably say, "Why didn't this occur when I was still alive?'" Cerrie said with a laugh. "And that's just the way he is. He was a goofball like that and he would have meant it in a respectful way. I think it's a wonderful honor for him and his family, but that's just the type of person he was."