First Ward Falcons softball tourney begins Friday

Batter up!

OBSERVER File Photo Pictured above is action during last year’s First Ward Falcons fast-pitch softball tournament. The 44th annual tournament begins this Friday, in Dunkirk.

For the 44th consecutive year, fast pitch softball teams from all around the North East region will take the field at a handful of different softball stadiums in Dunkirk, including Promenschenkel Stadium, as the First Ward Falcons softball tournament opens this Friday night, July 19, and runs through Sunday, July 21.

Teams will be guaranteed three games, with the top eight teams qualifying to play in a single elimination bracket on Sunday, where prize money will be handed out accordingly amongst the top teams. The event also features music, barbeques, 50/50 raffles, and a competitive spectacle of on-field product.

While 44 of these events have come and gone successfully, the future of the tournament remains to be seen. Tim Wdowiasz has been running the event for almost 20 years and this is one of the lowest turn outs he’s seen for it, as there will be only nine teams manning the diamond.

“The last time we had nine teams was 10 years ago,” Wdowiasz said, “then we went right back up to 13.”

One looming factor as to the decline in participation this year is that of external forces. The Falcons tournament has been locked into the same weekend for the last several years, while other out of state tournaments have fallen on different weekends.

“We’ve been the same weekend for years, now this year it seems everyone is jumping in on it,” Wdowiasz said.

This year, the state tournament qualifier for Pennsylvania is on the same weekend for “the first time ever,” according to Wdowiasz. This caused three regulars from PA to forego the Falcons tournament and participate in the state qualifiers instead. In addition, an Over-45 fast pitch tournament was also moved to that same weekend, which pilfered another team from the Falcons tournament.

The other factor Wdowiasz has noticed is a drop off in the participation of younger people, which has affected the Dunkirk town fast pitch league, in addition to this tournament. Wdowiasz said with more younger people moving away from the area, whether that be for college or other reasons, makes it that much harder to field teams. The ones that do want to play, however, do not seem to want to take up the pitching aspect of the game.

“Our league is down to three teams. We had seven just a couple years ago. Kids just don’t seem to be playing sports like they used to,” Wdowiasz said.

Participation from teams and younger people in general, combined with the fact that Wdowiasz is a father with less time than he used to have, does not necessarily bode well for the future of the tournament. Wdowiasz said a decision for the future likely won’t be made until after Christmas of this year, but a key thing was that the interest in playing was still there, just the follow-through was down.

“Those tournaments being moved just played a spoiler’s role for us,” Wdowiasz said.

But despite all of these factors, the on-field display should still be top-notch. Even with the limited field of nine teams, there is still a strong pool of international talent and teams.

“We have a pitcher from the Czech Republic coming, as well as a pitcher from Australia. Two teams from Canada are coming too, the Owen Sound Select, who are an Under-23 team, and the Toronto Batmen, who are top 10 in the World Tournament,” Wdowiasz said.

Wdowiasz also added that a few teams who have won the First Ward Falcons tournament in the past will be returning for another shot at the title.

Whether it is the final First Ward Falcons fast-pitch tournament or not remains to be seen, but the show should still be good. Pitching will be at an elite level, as it always is according to Wdowiasz, who hopes that some of the areas younger talent comes and falls in love with the sport.

“Hopefully some kids that come out want to take up the art of pitching fast-pitch,” Wdowiasz said.