CAMP BONDSTEEL, Kosovo - After 39 games and 14 days of sun and rain, a champion was crowned June 27 in the Kosovo division of the McQuade Softball Tournament.
"The Unit," a team composed of players primarily from Multinational Battle Group East's Bravo Company, a North Dakota Army National Guard unit based in Valley City, N.D., won the tournament. "Sons of Pitches," with players from MNBG E's Liaison Monitoring Team (LMT) of Bismarck, N.D., took second. "Team NATO," with a mixed team of players from MNBG E's headquarters, took third.
The Unit won three consecutive games June 27, the final day of the tournament, to take the crown.
"We came out and lost our first game," said Spc. Dustin Devillers, West Fargo, N.D., the Unit's team captain. "From there, we just went out and had fun. That was our big spirit, just go out and have fun and play some softball. We came together as a team, bats came around. It was nice to come back and win three in a row."
Sgt. 1st Class Nathan Reierson, Williston, N.D., captain of Sons of Pitches, congratulated the Unit on their victory. The Unit beat Sons of Pitches twice on the tournament's last day.
"We had a really good season," said Reierson. "We didn't play today as well as we have in the past, but those guys really hit the ball well so you have to take your hats off to them."
The tournament was part of the "Defenders of Freedom" division of the annual Sam McQuade Charity Softball Tournament, which takes place in Bismarck, N.D. The McQuade Distributing Company sponsors the tournament, which was founded in 1976 and is one of the biggest sporting events in North Dakota, drawing participants from around the United States. In addition to the Kosovo tournament, McQuades also sponsored military tournaments in Afghanistan and Iraq this year.
Sgt. 1st Class Michael Maples, Lincoln, N.D., who heads the Morale Welfare and Recreation program in the MNBG E personnel section, got the ball rolling for the Kosovo division of the McQuade tournament. He knew that McQuade had sponsored overseas military softball tournaments in the past.
"When we got here, I sent an email to the McQuades, just contacted them, asked them if there would be any way to participate," Maples said. "McQuades jumped on it. They pretty much took care of everything."
McQuade provided t-shirts for everyone who played in the tournament and extras for the volunteers, said Maples. They also provided three big banners for the softball field and a crate of softballs that were used as game balls throughout the tournament.
Maples said bringing the tournament to Camp Bondsteel gave Soldiers "a little taste of home."
"A lot of the guys I work with in Bismarck play on teams so I hear all the stories about the tournament," he said, "The main purpose was to give people something to do in their spare time, to get them out, to get them doing stuff."
Even though Maples is from Bismarck, this was his first chance to play in the McQuade tournament.
"I wish we played more. We were the very first team to be eliminated," he said. "We had fun. It was a good time."
Maj. Shayne Simon, Alexandria, Minn., who ran the tournament and umpired most of the games, said that 20 teams consisting of nearly 300 players participated in the event. Players representing all the U.S. units in MNBG E were involved, and two Ukrainian players also took part.
Spc. Ricky Kuhn , St. John, N.D., who captained the third place NATO team, said the tournament "was a blast."
"Overall, I had a lot of fun," he said. "I thank McQuades a lot; the tournament gave us something fun to do in our down time, we will remember this for many years."
Devillers said the tournament was "awesome."
"It was nice that McQuades got everything going, donated the softballs, the banners and everything," he said. "It was great to see everybody come together and have fun playing softball like we were back home."
Reierson thanked McQuades for their support.
"It was great to have the tournament here. We really enjoyed getting to play a little softball, to play for something," he said. "Having the trophies sent over and the support from McQuades was wonderful. It really makes the time pass and it really meant a lot to all of us deployed to Kosovo."
"You couldn't ask for more from a tournament and McQuades," said Devillers.