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Unassuming game of wiffleball raises eyebrows and cash



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August 07, 2013 - By Meg Peters

Review Staff Writer

If you lack a good hustle, don't even consider trying out for the Lake Orion Wiffleball Association.

Smashing their perforated balls out of the park, these guys are known for their die-hard maneuvers, unwavering service to their country, and girls in bikinis.

"We like to say that we are more American than apple pie," said Ryan Skalnek, co-commissioner for LOWB.

Old high-school comrades returned to the Vanden Boom backyard to compete in the 7th annual "Wiffleball Weekend Tournament" over the Fourth of July weekend.

People flew in from Alaska, Florida, Philadelphia and more, to complete their summer with the anticipated grasp of the wiffle.

The games started as a group of high school buddies making fun of their fellow lefties and diving into Lake Orion after first base. But then, four years ago, the team took their playing to a more serious level and began fundraising for local and national veterans.

During their last tournament in July, while shaving USA flare into their beards and sustaining concrete-related injuries, they raised $9,000. It was split between three veteran's organizations, including Operation Homefront, the Iraq and Afghanistan Veteran's of America, and Lake Orion's Veteran's Memorial.

"All of a sudden for this groundswell of their interest to surface and come forward with supporting the veterans at the Orion's Veterans Memorial.

"It's just outstanding and I can't praise them enough," said Orion Veteran's Memorial chairman Dr. Joseph Mastromatteo. "Strongly patriotic. It just blew our minds at the Orion Veteran's Memorial. God bless them, we need more of their kind."

All in all, LOWA has raised $19,000 in the last four years in the sport of good 'ole, 'Merican fun.

Flashback to 2001, when the "Wiffle Commandments" were created by a bunch of 16-year-old boys.

Number one: Girls have to be in bikins, (and can't play. But there is a yearly Miss Wiffle). Number two: No cell phones during games. Number three: "You gotta hustle. Wiffleball isn't the kind of game where you have to be the fastest or most athletic guy, but the last thing we wanna have is a lack of hustle," Skalnek said.

First base is positioned five feet before a concrete slab entering Lake Orion, which Skalnek pounded his heel into before diving in, bruising it for two weeks.

"Basically if you really wanna hustle, you've got to run through the first base line and dive into the lake, that's our big hustle play, it's a fan favorite," he explained.

He said another guy had to wear slippers to work for two weeks waiting for his feet's wiffle-wounds to heal.

Another strictly adhered to rule is the healthy discrimination of left-handed batters.

Because the field is positioned on the lake, lefties naturally hit the ball to right or center field, or into the water. So to counter the grievance of fetching wiffle floaters, ridiculous rules are mandated upon left-handed batters.

"The worst thing was wearing the hula skirt and coconut bra every time I batted, I was the only one who had to wear it," said Dave Welch, a long-time LOWA player. "People were constantly running their mouths. It was probably the best one overall," he said.

Welch was also this year's 'Best Mustache' winner, after shaving 'USA' into his mane of a beard, rumored to have taken him five hours.

"It's a big honor, there's a lot of pride at stake and we have fun with it, I get to carry the plaque around for another year," he said, also last year's winner due to a very thick set of handlebars.

Welch's family and Hollywood Market donate food every year for the fundraising dinner, the Friday night before the game, also the night when the teams are selected.

This year every team represented a branch of the military: the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, and the Coast Guard. The last team represented POWs/MIA soldiers..

Over the years LOWA has donated enough Veteran's Memorial to achieve a brick in their honor every year it has fundraised.

Apart from the overall cheer in watching a group of grown men play a child's game and the good cause behind it all, the playing field is probably the other largest draw to come check out the LOWA.

"The field we play on is very quirky. It's got trees. It's got a deck, it's got water," Skalnek said. "It's kind of like an amusement park."

The wiffle can bounce off the roof, zig-zag down the Plinko Tree, and inevitably end up in the water as teams of five chuck the ball at each other in efforts to get players out.

"I think our little Wiffleball Association is a pretty good example of literally taking something you love to do—I mean we'd be doing this regardless—and after four years of fundraising we're almost at $20,000 we've donated," Skalnek said. "We can be on Facebook or Twitter and be connected to more people than you can in the world, but we don't know what is going on in our current military. It's just kind of something that we like to forget, so it's important not just to raise the money for these veteran organizations, but to bring a little bit of awareness to it too," he said.

The LOWA has sent their paperwork in to become a full-fledged registered 501c3 charity organization, and have talked about having other events such as bowling or golf events to get the whole community involved.

Skalnek said he doesn't know how much longer his body will hold up for Wiffleball Weekend, but the organization would carry on regardless.

"You'd be surprised how tiring wiffleball is because it's such a recreational activity, but it's all like short bursts, like you'd be better off running a marathon because it's steady," Skalnek said. "Wiffleball you're always just stop 'n go, stop 'n go, stop 'n go."

Find out more about wiffleball, donating and events at the Lake Orion Wiffleball Association Facebook page.

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