July 1973 – July 2012
The institution known as the Grafton Annual Ball Tournament started as a result of Paul McIntosh retiring the tournament he hosted in Cold Springs. Ann and Dick Raymond met with Pat & Jack Kernaghan in the spring of 1973 and a fastball tournament became the topic of discussion. With no local tournament, a good facility and avid fastball fans why couldn’t we host a tournament.
With this in mind we approached the local arena and park board for support. They did not feel that this would be a financial success and so declined our offer. Still feeling we had a good idea Ann and Dick would take on the financial responsibility for the first tournament.
The intention of this tournament was to attract local teams and their families to our facility. We were interested in promoting our community and facility. The last weekend in July 1973 saw 12 men’s teams compete, between Friday evening and Sunday afternoon, on two diamonds (now known as Diamond # 1 & # 3) for a nominal prize of $100.00. Over the years the main tournament prize was “Bragging Rights”.
The first tournament was deemed to be a success so why not add a ladies’ division. The 1974 event hosted 18 teams including 7 ladies’ teams.
In 1975 the tournament was rained out and the final 4 games were played on the following Sunday afternoon. (The only time in the history of the tournament that this happened.)
By 1976 the tournament had grown to 34 teams, therefore, a third ball diamond was added to the park. That diamond is now known as Diamond # 2 to the north of the arena. This area had been used by the soccer players, however, in the previous years the game of soccer had been moved to new facilities in Colborne.
In 1976 the tournament introduced a “Dance” event on the Saturday night. This event turned into a social time for participants to visit and reminisce. Many of those years saw over 1,000 people converge on the floor of the arena. In those years the alcohol would be served from the north east corner of the facility and the beer would be served from the north west corner. A multitude of cases of various brands of beer would be cooled in a reefer outside the building. For many years Don Hare and the Wicklow Warriors Ball team would be responsible for managing the liquor sales. The dances continued until 1991.
The tournament by 1980, had grown to 48 teams. It was going to be almost impossible to host all the games in Grafton so that year a number of games were played in the Baltimore Ball park. We like to support other facilities in our area, however, one of the objectives was to support our own facility so Diamond # 4 was built in the north east corner of the property.
During the life of the tournament many people stayed at local camp grounds, hotels and motels, purchased sporting goods in Cobourg, and ate in the local restaurants. The list of services offered goes on and on.
A multitude of local businesses supported this tournament through program advertising and team awards. There are thousands of ball tournament hats and tee shirts being worn in Southern Ontario. In 1981 Labatt’s Brewery came on board. In 1982 the Labatt’s Skydiving Team dropped onto Diamond # 1 at noon on Saturday. In 1983 the Labatt’s Hot Air Balloon took spectators for a ride to see the park from new heights. We enjoyed their sponsorship for many years.
As the years went by the tournament continued to grow and in 1984 boasted the largest number of participants with 32 men’s and 20 ladies’ teams playing 96 games on 5 diamonds starting on Thursday evening and concluding Sunday night. The new Diamond # 5 was created in the south west corner of the property.
The tournament was now known as one of the largest fastball tournaments in Southern Ontario in what was deemed to be one of the best facilities. Over these years the Raymond’s and the Kernaghan’s had followed Marty Kernaghan’s softball career to various facilities in both Canada and the USA. When attending other ball fields Jack and Dick would always be checking out the facility to see if they had something we could add to ours. Jack always wanted dugouts on diamond # 1. Never happened. After years of operating a canteen out of makeshift buildings we did get an appropriate outdoor facility. Numerous players were amazed to see such a facility in a small community. This was a ”Compliment” to everyone who had been involved over the years.
By 1990, Marty Kernaghan, a well-known Grafton Softball player, was touted as one of the best fastball players in the world. He was playing ball for Penn Corp based in Sioux City, Iowa. The team was going to be in Ontario during the time of the Grafton Tournament and we arranged for that team to compete against a team of “Select” players coached by Bill Elliott. Much to the amazement of the hundreds of spectators in the park on Friday July 20th Bill Elliott’s Select Team defeated Penn Corp by a score of 5–4.
In 1992 Marty Kernaghan and the Penn Corp team were invited back to Grafton to challenge Elliott Bros. Cleaners one more time. This time Penn Corp defeated Elliott Bros. Cleaners 5–2.
Things did not always go as planned: very rarely did we finish at the advertised time, many games were re-scheduled due to rain and maybe you played in Centreton in the wee hours on a Sunday morning in order to get everything back on track. Ball players understand that ball diamonds do not come with a roof – you play in all sorts of weather conditions.
As mentioned previously, with the increased interest in the tournament the facility grew to accommodate the event. Diamonds were added. Temporary snow fencing was replaced with permanent fencing. Lights on diamond # 1 were upgraded. A score keeping facility was built. Over the years an electronic scoreboard was erected on diamond # 1 and the field known as diamond #2 got lights. The cost of all of these upgrades was paid for from tournament profit and volunteer help. We now had a premier facility in the hamlet of Grafton. Layton Dodge while sports editor for the Cobourg Star (Northumberland Today and then no daily newspaper) used the quote “On the third weekend in July all roads lead to Grafton”.
The tournament exceeded our original expectations and over the years numerous people came on board to look after the diamonds, collect money at the gate, score keep, help at the bar and canteen facilities and manage the administration during the event. When you joined this team you signed on for life. Over the years we had to say goodbye to a number of faithful volunteers and supporters.
At the first tournament Jim Spiers volunteered as the chief umpire. During those first few years many local umpires volunteered their support. As the tournament grew and at least 10 umpires were needed for every hour of tournament this responsibility was turned over to the local association.
As stated previously Layton Dodge was the sports editor at the Cobourg Star when the tournament started. Layton always took holidays in July and still continued to promote and report the event by Wednesday of the following week. The local coverage was never the same after Layton’s retirement. He took great pride in showcasing all local athletes. He was a scorekeeper/announcer in each of the 40 years of the tournament.
With the turn of the century we were experiencing a decline in fastball participation by both men and women. The local leagues were forced to fold and players had to travel outside the area in order to continue enjoying the game. With the decline in interest it was becoming extremely difficult to host an event that would attract both players and spectators.
In the spring of 2012, it was decided that 40 years was a great run. The volunteers were aging but did not want to quit so we made a difficult but necessary decision. As word spread that this would be the final tournament many ballplayers contacted friends and made up teams so that they could say that they played in the Last Grafton Tournament. One person played in the first and last tournament. A total of 16 mens’ teams and 6 ladies’ teams competed in 2012.
At the final tournament only Jack Kernaghan, Ann & Dick Raymond and Layton Dodge could say that they had been involved for every event. However, Tanya Stittle (Raymond) and Tara Raymond had been at every tournament since the day of their birth. At first they had no choice but then they caught the fever and along with the rest of us have many wonderful memories.
Submitted By Ann & Dick Raymond
Updated August 2020