For 55 years the small town of Clearwater, Manitoba, has hosted an annual ball tournament, which attracts nearly 2000 people. Today the tournament is a major fundraiser for the town of 75 people.
The Early Days
Prior to World War II, Joe Avery hosted an annual ball tournament on his land near the Rock Lake. In the early days of the tournament teams came from as far away as Chicago, many players destined for the major leagues. Likely due to conditions after the War Mr. Avery did not continue the tournament. So in the late winter of 1951 a group from the nearby town of Clearwater gathered to discuss the potential of hosting the annual ball tournament in their town.
Clearwater Sports Club
The community formed the Clearwater Sports Club, and have been hosting an annual ball tournament ever since. The tournament is held at the edge of town, on land owned by the Orange Lodge. The Lodge plowed the pastures and shrubbery and turned the land into ball diamonds. In 1970 the Sports Club purchased the land, and it became the Clearwater Sports Park.
Currently the Club’s president is Tom Stone, other positions include secretary-treasurer and 5 directors. The Sports Club meets formally twice a year once in the middle of April and again at the end of June to get ready for the tournament July 1st. Tom Stone has acted as president for the past 10 years, but like many residents of Clearwater he has been involved with the tournament for most of his life.
A Community Event
Come tournament time the entire community is involved. The Community helps by putting up posters around the district weeks before the tournament, working at the food concessions, umping baseball, working the front gate, organising teams, or parking cars. After 55 years hosting the tournament the Clearwater knows what needs to be done, and the Sports Club never needs to give much instruction. Community members take on the jobs they have done for years.
The community is called out for the work day a few days prior to the tournament. During this day infields are mowed, bathrooms cleaned, fencing is fixed, and tables and seating are set up in the skating rink for the concession stands. After the tournament children are given $1 for every bag of garbage they fill.
Work begins early July 1st, people are out at 6:30 a.m. laying base lines, for the first games at 9 a.m. Games continue into the evening until it is too dark to play. The tournament runs fairly smooth with only minor glitches.
“We are pretty fortunate that we have this community, everybody lends a hand and puts in their time.”
Food for the tournament is donated by community members, including the cooking of turkeys, hams, and making desserts and salads. Come game day many of the women of Clearwater work at the skating rink preparing the meals and selling food. A second concession is set up to sell drinks, chips, hamburgers and hotdogs. Any leftover food such as hams and pies, are sold off whole at the end of the day.
Since the 50th anniversary of the tournament in 2001, beer gardens have been added to the tournament. In earlier year there were no beer gardens because of the high number of children in attendance. To maintain the day as a family event, the beer gardens do not open until 8:00 p.m. Tom Stone also jokes, that if they were open earlier there would be no one to work at the tournament.
Funding for the Tournament
The very first tournament was financed by loans taken out by Sports Club executives. Today the cost of the tournament ranges from $15,000 to $20,000, covering the cost of maintenance, equipment, umpires, and advertisement.
Originally umpires were volunteers from the community but with fewer umpires in town these years, the Sports Club has had to hire umpires from surrounding communities; in 2005 12 umpires were hired for the day. The Sports Club pays for foul ball caught by spectators. Buying back the balls saves the Club a lot of money in the expenses of new equipment.
Approximately 75 teams play each year. There is no registration fee for players; rather players pay a $5 gate fee like everyone else. All teams are guaranteed at least two games. Prizes are cash, the winning senior team receives $400 dollars and from there the amount goes down accordingly.
The net income of the tournament is approximately $10,000 each year. The tournament draws in about 1900 people each year for the one day event.
A New Diamond
The community recently built its eleventh baseball diamond. The cost was kept relatively low as many of the supplies were recycled material. The Sports Club purchased light standards from Manitoba Hydro, the standards are used to make backstops. Partial funding for new backstop wire was obtained through a Community Places grant.
A New Tractor
The Sports Club and skating rink committee shared the expense of a tractor. The skating rink makes use of the tractor in the winter to prepare the ice. The Sports Club uses the tractor and a mower in the summer to cut the grass at the Sport Park. In the early years of the tournament the grass was only cut just before game day, and stacked as hay.
During the summer the Sports Club splits the expenses to hire a Hometown Green Team student to do the maintenance around the fields. A partial grant is received for this position from the Government of Manitoba Education, Citizenship and Youth branch, the Sports Club, town and cemetery split the remaining cost.
Money raised at the tournament goes into the maintenance costs of the Clearwater Sports Park, including eleven baseball diamonds, hockey rink, curling rink and play structure. The Sports Club paid for a portion of the original cost to the develop the Sports Park. A certain amount of funds must be kept by the Sports Club in case of rain one year, this ensures the tournament continues the following year.
Remaining funds are distributed to community groups upon request. Allocation decisions are made by the Sport Board members. Almost all Clearwater community groups have benefited from the Sports Club in one way or another.
“We are very fortunate to have the day, it kind of keeps the town running.”
—Tom Stone, President of Clearwater Sports Club
Rain made 2005 the most trying year in the tournament’s history, 2005 was the wettest year on record. A lot of days prior to the event was spend removing water from the fields. Water was pumped out of the field and also drained using the local electrician’s chain trencher. Thankfully July 1st was a sunny day.
Over the 55 years of the tournament the community has only cancel the tournaments twice because of rain. When tournaments are cancelled people find other way to pass the day, after all somebody has to stick around to eat all the food prepared for the event. One year a rainout resulted in a Belgian bowling tournament in the skating rink.