Lake Catholic grads hosting third annual Wiffle ball tournament in July

May 23—Just the mention of Wiffle ball usually brings back memories of kids swinging plastic yellow bats and having fun just about anywhere from an empty lot to a park to one of the player's backyard.

Four recent Lake Catholic graduates who played baseball together in the Mentor rec leagues are far removed from their childhood, but they weren't satisfied with their playing days being over.

Three years later, what they've started has become larger than they ever could have imagined and it is not only a sense of enjoyment and a return to their youth, they have turned the idea in a way to raise money for local charities.

On July 27, Nick Regano, Nick Pellecchia, Andrew Zalar and Jacob Minich, all from the Class of 2023, will host the third annual Regano Wiffle Ball Tournament at Mentor Ridge Elementary School.

"We all played rec baseball together and we didn't want it to end," said Regano, a finance major at Kent State. "So, we got a bunch of kids together one day to play Wiffle ball. More and more kids wanted to play and we ended up turning it into a tournament.

"That was the first year," he noted. "We really didn't know what we were doing. It was a mess. And here we are now about to start our third tournament."

Gone are the days of just getting a group of kids to play Wiffle ball in an open field.

The tournament takes nine months of planning, has a five-page rulebook, has a concession stand, draws in family and friends who come to watch, awards prize money to the winners and runners-up, and now, most importantly to the guys who run it, a charity component.

The first year 19 teams competed. Last year it grew to 32.

The organizers liked that number, so this year's tournament is again capped at 32 teams. There are eight four-team divisions with each team guaranteed to play three games. The top two teams in each division then advance to a single-elimination bracket to determine the champion.

The championship team wins $1,000. The runners-up get their money back (there is a $15 per person entry fee).

Last year, all the proceeds from the concession stand were donated to JBS Strong, a childhood cancer foundation in honor of the late Jack Sawyer, who was a student at Mentor High School.

"All the food and stuff are donated, so everything we make goes to the charity," Regano said. "This year we reached out to Jack's family to see if there was someone else, we could donate to. This year all our concession proceeds are going to Addie Strong."

Addie is a young girl from Mentor who has been diagnosed with medulloblastoma.

"We're really trying to make the charity an integral part of this," said Zalar, a finance major at Ohio State. "We hopefully will have more than $1,000 to give to them this year. We know it's not a good look if we're giving $1,000 to the winning team, but not that much to the charity. So we're going to really push our concessions this year and try to raise as much money as we can."

They already have a $500 commitment from the tournament sponsor, Regano Financial Services Inc.

To this point, the tournament has only brought in male competitors, but the organizers said that's just a coincidence and they aren't opposed to having females compete. The ages range from 12-year-olds to men in their 50s and 60s.

Most of the teams are comprised of high school and college-aged young men from all over the area, including players from Mentor High School, Kirtland High and Notre Dame-Cathedral Latin.

Pellecchia, a criminal justice major at Dayton, said that about 50 to 60 percent of the players are either current Lake Catholic students or alumni. To put it on, the four talk at least once a week the entire year just about Wiffle ball before ramping up in June and July.

They have to build and repair their strike zones. They also have to work with Ridge Elementary School to reserve the field for three days — one to set up, one to play and one to clean up.

"The fields take a long time to get set up," Pellecchia said.

"We've learned a lot in two years," Zalar said. "We have to turn our fields in a different direction. We were losing too many home run balls in the woods."

"It's to the point where I only ask for Wiffle balls and other stuff for Christmas," Regano said. "I'll also go to Dick's (Sporting Goods) in the winter to buy stuff, because no one is playing Wiffle ball then. So I know they'll have a lot in stock."

All the fences are just the orange snow fences. Everyone must use the plain yellow bats provided. They use plenty of spray paint to draw the field and base paths while using real rubber bases and pitching rubber.

On game day, games are self-umpired, although they do look for volunteers to help ump the playoff games, especially since prize money is on the line.

"It's a lot of fun and it does get competitive, but nothing more than some trash-talking," Pellecchia said. "We did think about last year being our last year doing it since we were all going off to college. We kind of used it as a last hurrah before we went off to college, but now it will serve as a reunion for a lot of us. So I'm glad that we decided to keep it going."

Anyone looking for more information check out the tournament Instagram page at @reganowiffleballclassic.