Norfolk’s Veterans Memorial Park was set to host the Nebraska American Legion Senior Area 6 Tournament in 2020, but COVID-19 had other plans.
A year later, the city will get its long-awaited chance.
Starting Friday, Norfolk will not only play but also will host multiple teams from Gretna, Grand Island, Fremont, Columbus and South Sioux City in a double-elimination tournament to determine who advances to the Class A state tournament beginning Saturday, July 24, at either Omaha Westside or Lincoln.
This will be the first time the city has hosted an area tournament since 2014. Even though they had to wait a little longer, the board and volunteers — including several parents of former Legion players — are ready nonetheless.
“We have some people in the community who used to be part of the Legion program. Their sons played and I’ve got a couple of those people I can call on,” tournament director Deb Wolff said. “They pretty much come through for me any time.”
The preparations aren’t anything Wolff hasn’t done before, even with a pandemic pushing it back a year. However, there are still plenty of things to plan ahead for.
Some of the biggest priorities are concessions and taking care of umpires. The board works to make sure that players have enough to eat and have places to change in and out of uniform. They also get a trailer for the umpires so they have somewhere cool to sit when they’re not on the field.
Five umpires will rotate in threes over the course of the tournament.
“I just always want to make sure that I have dotted my i's and crossed all my t’s and make sure that everyone is aware of what the schedule is gonna be like and different things like that,” Wolff said.
As for the team on the field, it’ll look to put history behind it and make some noise on the team’s home diamond. The Norfolk Lammers Trailers/Elkhorn Valley Bank Seniors have won just one game in the area tournament since 2017, but coach Darrel Bradley believes they have the talent to do something big.
“Our hitting has gotten much better,” Bradley said. “There’s been multiple times we’ve put up 10, 12, 15 runs in a game and it’s just infectious with these guys. They build off of good momentum and good positive at-bats and good positive energy.”
A plus of playing such crucial games at home is a familiarity with a playing surface that the other teams might not be as fond of. Many of the teams visiting play on turf fields, while Veterans is made up of grass and dirt.
“They get used to playing on turf,” Bradley said about the other teams participating. “You have a little faster of an infield, but you have true hops. Our guys know how to play on dirt, play on grass.”
Bradley is also eager to see what he can do with his pitching staff, which is not only deep, but will be well rested ahead of the tournament. It’ll also help to know who does best in different kinds of situations.
“We have some really good starters and we’ve learned now since we didn’t have a defined pitching staff at the beginning of the season,” he said. “We’ve learned now who pitches well where, and I think that we’ll be able to utilize that going in fresh.”
The seniors will get things started Friday at 7 p.m. against an opponent yet to be determined, which Wolff said was scheduled in an effort to draw a big crowd. There is an admission fee for adults and kids, with veterans entering for free. Any members of Norfolk Steel who wear their jerseys to the game also get free entry.