For more than 50 years, Soldiers and Family members across the Army Medical Command (MEDCOM) community have gathered to do battle on the softball diamond in the annual MEDCOM softball tournament.

From Aug. 19 through Saturday, 11 men's teams and five women's teams took to the Lovejoy/Gerald Matthews Complex in Hampton to see which two would emerge as this year's champions.

The tournament, which featured both a men's and women's team from the Lawrence Joel Army Health Clinic (LJAHC) at Fort McPherson, was a double elimination, soft pitch competition with brackets being determined by a series of pre-event games Aug. 20.

The actual tournament took place Saturday, with games lasting seven innings or 65 minutes, whichever came first.

Fort McPherson had the honor of hosting the event this year because the LJAHC men's team won last year, said Sgt. 1st Class Bryce Mikalik, LJACH medical detachment NCOIC.

Mikalik, who also served as a coach for the LJACH men's team, the Raiders, hoped to emulate last year's success.

The team started off strong, defeating the Fort Bragg, N.C., team, before falling to eventual men's tournament winner, Fort Stewart's Winn Army Community Hospital (WACH). The "WACHers" defeated the Fort Sam Houston, Texas, Rangers, 8 - 5 to take the championship.

"We played well as a team," said Patrick Sammons, WACH medical board processing and physical evaluation board liaison officer, and coach of the team.

"We had a good mix of veterans and new guys."

Much of the team, which had been working together for about two weeks prior to the tournament, came from players who play in the Fort Stewart softball league, Sammons added.

While the men's team finished out of contention with a 2-2 record, the LJAHC women's team went undefeated, compiling a 3-0 record with wins over Fort Hood, Texas, Fort Jackson, S.C., and the combined Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Bethesda Naval Center and Kimbrough Ambulatory Care Center, Md., teams.

"It felt good to do undefeated. We played great defense and offense," said Vendolyn Williams, team head coach and wife of Sgt. 1st Class Eddie Cutwright, a military policeman with U.S. Army Reserve Command. "It was good to represent Fort McPherson one more time."

The game wasn't going well initially for the team, which trailed 10 - 1 in the fourth inning.

However, a five-run inning, followed by a six-run fifth inning set up the final score of 12 - 10.

It was the only time in the tournament that the team had to come from behind, said retired master sergeant Priscilla Mosley.

"We played great defense until our offense came around," said Mosley, who played first base for the team.

Sgt. 1st Class Barry Pethel, medical detachment training NCO, LJAHC, said it felt good to come out victorious in a tough fight. Pethel, along with Mikalik, helped organize the event, and also helped coach the women's team. "We had a good, hard working group of women," Pethel said. "I'd go to battle with them anytime. I'm proud of them."

He admitted, though, things weren't always so great. At first, he said, some team members had attitudes.

However, once things calmed down, the group gelled like a family. He also credits the team's practice ethic for making the improvements.

"We had good, hard practices. We didn't just have fun; we worked on things," Pethel said, adding the team practiced twice a week, two hours at a time, for several weeks.

Although the team practiced hard, the entire tournament was all about fun, camaraderie and building esprit de corps within the MEDCOM community, said Pethel and Mikalik.

While the tournament was the main focus, other outdoor activities were also held.

On Aug. 19, a base running competition, a relay throw competition and a home run derby were all held to give participants some individual awards to strive for.

Besides these three events, individuals awards were also given to select players, said Mikalik.

The tournament's most valuable player, offensive player and defensive player were awarded for both sexes, and players on the first- and second-place team each received individual plaques as well as a unit plaque.

Awards were purchased with money raised via fundraisers, said Mikalik and Pethel. To raise the money, LJAHC held several fish fries and raffles and sought out local businesses to sponsor the tournament.

Money raised also helped pay for use of the fields and for umpires, who were certified by the American Softball Association.

Other teams performed similar actions to raise money to sponsor their trip to the event.

Whatever sacrifices and work needed to sponsor and prepare for the trip was well worth it, said DeeDee Clark, spouse of Chief Warrant Officer 3 Jason Clark, who works at the Womack Army Medical Center at Fort Bragg. Clark said she has been playing softball since seventh grade and enjoys the friendship and fun had at the tournaments.

Pethel said he was glad everyone who showed up had fun and that he looks forward to future events. Although he said he won't be able to represent the installation with the closure of Fort McPherson next year due to BRAC, he hopes to participate wherever he is stationed.

The site for next year's tournament has yet to be decided. The site is chosen by the winner of either the women or men's tournament, alternating each year between the two. Fort McPherson would have hosted the tournament because of LJACH's victory, however, because of BRAC, other arrangements will need to be made.

No matter where the tournament is held, Pethel and Mikalik said they look forward to seeing familiar faces and renewing the sense of camaraderie the tournament has been creating for more than half a century.

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16