When I was growing up college football didn’t usually start until after Labor Day weekend. Labor Day was truly the end of summer for us and the last fast pitch softball tournament of the summer. My family never went on a family vacation. My sister, brother, mom and I went on some trips with my mom’s parents but our family never took a vacation. There were many reasons. One was because vacations cost money and there wasn’t a lot of money. Second, my dad drove a route for the Yarnell’s Ice Cream Company and summer was high season so it’s hard to take off work. The main reason was that we spent two nights a week and our weekends at my dad’s fast pitch softball team’s games. I guess daddy has loved ball of any kind since he was a little boy. He told me he knew when he was growing up that he would be a Cardinal baseball player. Then, the reality that he couldn’t hit the curve ball happened. No matter, he took up fast pitch softball. Daddy was quite a good pitcher. Softball was serious business to my dad. He had quite the temper back then, too. He thought the only reason a person should miss a game was for a death. You can work around weddings and such. My earliest memories are with his teammates and their families. For as long as I have a memory, Daddy and his team hosted a Labor Day Softball Tournament. Every Labor Day that is where you would find us.
It was a family affair for sure. In the earliest days he built a softball field in the field in front of our house. For those of you who are not from the country, I am sure this is hard to imagine. Try to envision houses set acres apart with nothing but sage grass, hay fields and trees separating them from each other and the highway. There was plenty of room for a ball field in front of you home. Can you imagine your mom going along with that! Fans just parked in the field. My mom and grandmother built a concession shack. I call it a shack because that is what it looked like an old wooden shack. Mom would go to “town” to get the candy, drinks and other supplies for the concessions. To town was to Searcy, which was the nearest town with big stores and was about 12 miles away. The teammates families worked the concession stand and mom kept the scorebook. There were no lights so games all had to be played during the day. It was double elimination and it all culminated on Labor Day afternoon. People came from all over the county to watch. I believe the first tournament was in 1965 the year my brother was born. Time passed and the tournament moved to the Rose Bud School. The concession stand shifted to benefit one of the school groups usually. The field was lighted and the softball field was set just below the school in the edge of beautiful trees. It really was a beautiful spot for a softball tournament. And the tournament grew. Teams came from all over the state and some from out of state. Some teams brought campers and camped in the trees. Others camped at Greers Ferry Lake, which was just a 20-minute drive. Others grabbed hotel rooms in nearby Searcy and Heber Springs. Daddy taught us how to draw up brackets for a double elimination tournament, and then we would get out the poster board and a magic marker and draw a few sets of brackets to post around the field and concession stand. My sister and I were taught to keep score and were pretty adept at it by the time we were 13 or 14 years old. Again my dad was teaching us the essential life skills: scorekeeping and bracket art!
It was certainly another time and another place. We kids all ran around with no one worried much about someone snatching us. We would be the filthiest little creatures you have ever seen. We would drag into our house after midnight usually. Too tired to bathe, we would collapse in our beds so we could get up early to go back to the field and start prepping for the next day’s games. Daddy was always fretting about the weather. It really didn’t rain that often but every now and then we’d have to re-schedule games for post-Labor Day.
I sit here smiling as I write this and conjure up memories of lots of good friends and old friends. I often think about those many people. Daddy has stayed in touch with lots of them. Sadly, I usually only hear about them when there is a tragedy or a death. I don’t remember when the last tournament happened. After daddy retired from playing, they stopped for a few years and then re-started. Ever year on this weekend, it still seems kind of weird to me that I am not packing up to go to the Labor Day Tournament. I’ll call my dad later and he’ll say, you know what we would have been doing on this day? I’ll laugh and then we’ll talk about it all over again.