Sep 11

Whalan Fast Pitch Tournament Inducted into Minnesota Softball Hall of Fame


The small city of Whalan, Minn., has once again become infamous as the Whalan Lutheran Church Men’s Fastpitch Tournament was recently inducted into the Minnesota Softball Hall of Fame.

This is the first time a tournament was elected for the Minnesota Softball Hall of Fame instead of an individual, which is a very distinguished achievement.

The tournament was nominated by Davis Gilbertson, chairman of the Minnesota Sports Federation softball board and Perry Coonce, who is also on the board.

When asked why the Whalan Lutheran Church Men’s Fastpitch Tournament was nominated, Gilbertson stated that “it was time” as the tournament has been taking place for so many years and was “very deserving” of the induction.

The tournament, which was started by Gene Johnson, took place for the first time in 1970 and has created cherished memories for both players and their families and friends through the years it has been held.

Johnson’s widow, Charlotte Johnson, was present as Gilbertson handed the plaque to Everett Johnson, who has been instrumental in keeping the tournament going each year, and also present was Loren Berge who has played an important role in the tournament as well.

It is only fitting that the induction ceremony took place during the weekend of the tournament on Saturday, July 1, 2017, and took place at the Whalan ballfield.

Years ago, the tournament was an event that not only local residents would mark on their calendars but other people would travel many miles to participate or attend the tournament.

Families would come to the ball field together and while the adults sat in the fully occupied bleachers to watch the ball games the children would play in the playground area (without cell phones or video games). 

In recent years the number of people in the stands and lawn chairs has dwindled and the number of teams entered in the tournament has dropped dramatically, but that does not dampen the spirits of those who love the game, the history of the tournament and the town of Whalan.

This year there were four teams entered into the tournament: the Ostrander team, the Lake Crystal Hettingers team, the St. Charles Game Cocks, and the Preston team. 

Bruce Mensink started playing in the tournament in its second year of existence and was in the crowd this year watching his son Ben, 37, play second base for the Ostrander team. 

Mensink says the tournament was “by far the best tournament I ever played in all the years I played” fastpitch.  “If you ask anybody that played fastpitch softball in southeastern Minnesota they would tell you that the Whalan tournament was their favorite” of any tournaments they entered.

Denny King used to play in the tournament on the Ostrander Plumbing and Heating team and he was on hand at this year’s tournament watching his son Luke, 21, play third base and his grandson, Brody, now plays t-ball so it may not be long before they will have a third generation player in the Whalan Lutheran Church Men’s Fastpitch Tournament. 

Denny says the tournament is a unique thing that everyone enjoys and the players like the short fence because “everyone has a chance to hit a homerun here.”

Jim Sovereign from Cresco, Iowa, played in the tournament for many years as a pitcher.  Gilbertson says of Sovereign, “He had a change-up that was unhittable,” for even the best hitters. 

Sovereign reminisced about the Whalan tournament, saying, “It was one we always brought the kids to and they looked forward to it” each year.

Doug Wolford of Avon, Minn., who used to play in the tournament with the Ostrander team says one thing that makes the tournament special is “the fact that it’s all one field” so you have the teams that just finished playing, the teams that are currently playing and the teams that will be playing next all there along with all of their fans.

Everett Johnson was proud to accept the plaque from the Hall of Fame saying it is really an honor for the tournament to be included in the Minnesota Sports Hall of Fame.

There are only three other members of the Minnesota Sports Hall of Fame in the area, which include Gene Johnson, Jim Morcomb and Ralph Leistikow. 

Charlotte Johnson stated that the induction ceremony was meaningful, adding that her husband “would have enjoyed it” as the tournament was recognized by the Hall of Fame.

It is nice to see a great tradition like the Whalan Lutheran Church Men’s Fastpitch Tournament continuing today, receiving deserved recognition and hopefully it will continue for many years to come.


Article posted with permission from the Fillmore County Journal. Photo and article credits to Barb Jeffers.