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McQuade softball tournament almost here

Mike Wolff’s phone has been ringing a lot this week.

The final days of preparation for the annual McQuade Charity Softball Tournament can be hectic for the co-tournament manager and umpire in chief of the annual event.

“It’s day by day now,” Wolff said. “Putting out fires as they come up.”

With 422 teams slated to hit the diamonds in Bismarck-Mandan this weekend, and a crew of 117 umpires, there are a lot of details to iron out before the tournament officially begins on Friday.

“Inevitably, things come up,” Wolff said. “One guy called the other day, he had come down with Covid. There are things we have to be prepared for.”

With hundreds of teams playing hundreds of games over a three-day span, just managing the umpiring crew is a huge undertaking.

“When I first started in 1991, we had well over 400 teams and we got by on 85 umpires, but they were working 20 games over the weekend,” Wolf said. “I attend a lot of national tournaments, and I’ve built up a network of people around the state and around the country. We built the number up to 110-115 the last several years. Now we have them working 12 or 13 games. It makes it a lot nicer if you run into heat issues.”

Umpires are coming from around the state and the upper Midwest, but are also converging on Bismarck-Mandan from far-flung states such as Maryland, Connecticut, California, Tennessee and Nevada.

Wolff generally starts in-depth preparation for the tournament around Memorial Day weekend, starting with the brackets.

“It takes some time to get all the teams into their brackets, so we can get them their schedules,” Wolff said. “Once we get that finalized, I can get to work scheduling umpires. We have to schedule 750 umpire slots because some games have two, some games have one.

“I don’t schedule anybody more than three games in a row without getting them a break. Some guys like to work more games but I’m more on the cautious side. We want to make sure we’re getting people some breaks and keeping people hydrated.”

Wolff also helps to house and feed the umpiring crew, with several of them staying at his home.

“A lot of the umpires stay at my place,” Wolff said. “We feed 70 or more people every night, try to keep their expenses down. We get some campers set up, some people stay in the house. And a lot of local hotels generously have donated some rooms for umpires, too, to relieve some of the stress of finding housing for all those umpires.”

Wolff estimates that about 2/3 of the umpires come from out of town or out of state.

With the tournament opener getting closer, there’s still plenty of last-minute details to take care of.

“We field a lot of calls from teams with general questions,” Wolff said. “Answering questions from teams and umps. We put packets together for the teams, so we have to get those ready and get them to the complexes. We need to get water so we’ve got plenty of water and ice.”

As of Tuesday, 422 teams were registered for this year’s event, up a few from last summer. That includes 12 defending champions.

“With what’s happening in today’s economy, with gas prices, the costs of hotel rooms and even buying food if you’re camping, it’s a testament to the tradition of the tournament that so many people make plans and want to come,” Wolff said.

The USA Patriots, formerly the Wounded Warrior Amputee Softball Team, will once again be playing in the tournament, as well as two military teams from Guam.

On Friday at 6 p.m., the USA Patriots will play an exhibition game against a mix of players from the two teams from Guam. At 7:10 p.m., there will be a First Responder’s Appreciation Game and Saturday will include a Cancer Awareness Day game to raise money for cancer patients.

Last year, the McQuade tournament donated $188,000 to various charities, the highest total in the history of the event, which is in its 47th year.

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