Smola tournament is a weekend hit
Whether it was the chance to remember a young man gone too soon, the chance to get out and play some ball or simply the chance to get outside and see some friendly faces, the first Zach Smola Memorial Softball Tournament was a popular place to be.
The 12-team, double-elimination coed tournament took place Thursday through Sunday at Cindy’s Bar and Grill just west of Medford with a few games also taking place in Holway on Saturday.
A Wausau-based team, Defiance, won the championship game, beating Catt Memorial based out of the Eau Claire area. The rest of the teams were filled with players mostly from nearby locales with Bad Habits finishing third and MZB Outdoors taking fourth.
Zach Smola died Nov. 9, 2019 at the age of 22 in an automobile accident. The tournament was planned and organized over the previous few months by friends and family members. Smola was a 2015 graduate of Medford Area Senior High.
“With the Ron Smola tournament in the past we knew this was something that his family has done,” said Ben Nelson, one of Smola’s best friends and one of the tournaments main organizers along with another close friend, Mikel Delzer. Nelson also credited the Smola and Sova (Joe, Val and Justine) families as well as the staff at Cindy’s for making the tournament happen. “We played a lot of ball when Zach was around. It was something we all loved doing together as friends. It always was an idea once Zach had passed. It was like, ‘OK I guess we’re doing this.’” Doing it was obviously in doubt un- til Wisconsin’s Safer at Home was struck down by the state Supreme Court on May 13. With nothing standing in the way after that decision, Nelson said it was a hectic last half of May getting things finalized.
“It was a difficult time to try to finalize things when you didn’t know if you could have the tournament or not,” Nelson said. “Once we had the green light, it was all hands on deck for about two weeks there. That’s when Zach’s family and Justine’s family really stepped up to the plate to make sure this thing was run smoothly.
“I was literally sitting at work in Weston at the fire department and somebody said hey, ‘Safer at Home is over,’” he added. “For the next two hours I was on the phone trying to get stuff figured out with Mikel. Immediately it was foot on the gas pedal as soon as we found out that Supreme Court thing had happened. It was go time.”
Proceeds from this first tournament will go a long way toward establishing a scholarship in Smola’s name and to “paying it forward” as Nelson said with donations to local charities and to the Eau Claire-based team, which holds its annual Kurt and KC Catt Memorial tournament each August in Mondovi.
“It was just nice because you could see Zach had a positive effect on hundreds of people,” Nelson said. “A lot of people were there to celebrate him and have a good time.
“He was kind of a humble guy,” he added. “He would’ve been a little confused because he wouldn’t have realized how good he was to everybody. He just thought he was another guy having a good time and living his life. That was Zach, just humble and goofy.”