August 01, 2012 - Six years ago after the Fourth of July, Lake Orion resident Ryan Skalnek and his buddies decided to have a Wiffleball tournament little did he know it would turn into a yearly event that would become a fundraiser for veterans.
Chad Elliott pitches to batter Steve Skok at the plate. Photos submitted.
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"Each year it kept getting bigger and bigger and we were charging money for food and drinks, so we thought we should try and raise some money and turn it into a fundraiser," said Skalnek of the Lake Orion Wiffleball Association. "We decided we wanted to do something and keep it local."
They decided to donate their proceeds to the Orion Veterans Memorial, something Skalenek is very passionate about.
"I've never served or anything like that, but I think people in our generation (late 20's early 30's) take a lot of things for granted," he said. "We didn't ever have to get drafted. There hasn't bee a draft since the Vietnam War."
It was three years ago they started fundraising. He said they raised $100 in their first year and $3,000 in their second year, all of which has gone straight to the veteran's memorial.
"We have one of the most beautiful memorials in the whole state," he said. "A lot of people think it's just a bunch of statutes and monuments for things, but after being there and talking with it does mean a lot to those veterans to be recognized and have an outlet for them to deal with whatever they got to deal with."
After reaching a targeted goal of $5,000 this year, Skalnek said they decided to split the proceeds and give $2,500 to the veteran's memorial and $2,500 to the Wounded Warrior Project. The donation for Wounded Warrior Project will go towards helping military members who incurred service- connected wounds, injuries or illnesses on or after September 11, 2011.
"They are a national charity that has many programs to help our service members and veterans," added Skalnek. "These include combat stress recovery programs to help with issues like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, health and wellness programs to help with physical rehabilitation, and economic empowerment programs to assist in finding employment after service."
Friday night before the tournament Skalnek said they have a "Draft Night Charity Dinner, where the players are drafted for each team. This year they had 30 guys and six teams. Hollywood Market, Skalnek Ford, and Elliot Group International help sponsor the dinner and the tournament. The charity dinner also included a "Best Dressed," "Miss. Wiffleball" and "Best Mustache" competition. The ceremonial first pitch of the tournament was thrown out by Lieutenant William Robert McGregor of Beverly Hills, MI, Navy Veteran who served in the Pacific during World War II.
As for the game itself, Skalnek said it's not played in an open field like you would imagine.
"We play right on Lake Orion at a buddy's parent's house," he said. "There's a deck, there are trees, there is a house to the left and water on right."
"We also use a plastic yellow bat, so you don't hit the ball real far," he continued. "The nice thing about Wiffleball is you can play anywhere. You can play it on the corner of the City of Detroit somewhere."
At the end of the tournament trophy is not only awarded to the championship team, but also to "Most Outstanding Player," "Most Hustle," and "Most Valuable Player."
Dr. Joseph Mastromatteo of the Orion Veteran's Memorial said they are honored.
"The Lake Orion Wiffleball Association shown its outstanding patriotism by another donation towards the Orion Veterans Memorial," Mastromatteo said. "This expression of our community's involvement exemplifies the spirit which not only brings us together, but displays the love of our country and the ongoing sacrifices for our freedom."
Looking ahead to next year's tournament, Skalnek said he's excited.
"Next year we're hoping to get a little bit bigger and more sponsors," he said.
Businesses or individuals interested in supporting or sponsoring next year's fundraising events, contact Ryan Skalnek at LakeOrionWiffleball@gmail.com, also checkout Lake Orion Wiffleball Association on Facebook.
Trevor graduated with degrees in English and communications from Rochester College. He wrote for his college and LA View newspapers before joining The Clarkston News in May 2007.