By: Luke Drase
16 inch softball is a dying game…Or so they say.
On an abnormally warm late September afternoon, seven Chicago high schools gathered at Mather Park on the city’s north side for the ‘High School Heroes’ 16 inch softball tournament, without any gloves of course.
Featuring great competition and even better talent, the double elimination tournament was eventually taken by Northside Prep who ran the table and defeated Lane Tech in the finals by a score of 7-1.
“It was pretty sweet to win, especially beating Lane to do it” said Northside shortstop Benjy Rosengard.
“It was the first time this year we’ve beaten them in softball, and the first time I’ve beaten them in any other sport. Espsecially to beat them on a stage like this in a championship game, hopefully it’s a little prediction for the city championship.”
Although Northside took home the top prize, the event had a much bigger purpose, to show that the game created and molded in Chicago is still alive and well.
“This tournament started on the Southside a couple years ago and it kind of went away. I threw it out there with the other coaches to see if we could get it going on the Northside,” said tournament organizer and head coach of Northside Prep John Hohenadel.
“Hopefully this is a sign of things to come in the future, maybe we’ll get some more teams and people out next year and make it a bigger event, but it’s a good start for the first year.
It would be ignorant so say that 16 inch hasn’t lost a step since it’s heyday. The once thriving park game that saw every green space and back ally feature a team has not been able to maintain it’s popularity.
Mather Park, which once hosted Monday and Thursday leagues that featured 16 teams each, is now down to one night a week with a meager eight teams suiting up.
Despite the seemingly rapid decline, people like Hohenadel and organizations like the SSA (Slow-Pitch Softball Association) are doing all they can to resurrect the game to it’s former glory.
Hohenadel said: “I love the game, I grew up watching my dad play and I just hope that I can pass that down to the other kids, and they keep coming out and when they graduate high school, maybe they get their friends and start their own team.”
So far, it looks as though that strategy has been working. Since Hohenadel took over the Northside program in 2010, a number of his former players have gone on to play for his team after they graduated, and a new crop of players look to be just around the corner.
“When I came into Northside, I didn’t know what to do for a fall sport,” said Rosengard.
“I talked to Coach Ho about baseball and he convinced me to come out for 16 inch. My dad used to play it and he was really excited when I decided to play it, so it’s pretty sweet in that regard.”
16 inch softball will never die in Chicago. It may have taken a hiatus over the past decade, but if there is one city that can put the game back on the map it is Windy City.
There is such a uniqueness to both Chicago and the 16 inch game that make it such a perfect pairing, even if you can’t quite find the right words to describe it.
“Man, that’s a tough question. There’s just something about it which make the two work,” said Hohenadel.
“It’s just the comradery that it brings. It’s being out with the guys after waiting through that long winter and you’re just chomping at the bit to get outside, hangout, and do something, I haven’t really pinpointed it but it’s just a great sport”
Nobody who has grown up in the city wants to see the game go away and the “High School Heroes” tournament proved that there is a whole new generation of players that will not let the game disappear anytime soon.
And if nothing else, Chicagoans are too stubborn to let THEIR game go extinct.