A big deal for Ephrata

By on July 19, 2017
Ephrata Legion Coach Derek Sipe and his Post 429 squad will play host  to  the  Pennsylvania  State  Tournament  at  War  Memorial  Field July 25-29. Photo by Preston Whitcraft

Ephrata Legion Coach Derek Sipe and his Post 429 squad will play host to the Pennsylvania State Tournament at War Memorial Field July 25-29. Photo by Preston Whitcraft

A first for Lancaster County, War Memorial hosting state Legion tourney

In its 91-year history, the Pennsylvania State American Legion Tournament has never once been held on Lancaster County’s rich baseball soil.

That will change next week when Ephrata will play host to the best teams from every corner of the state July 25-29.

It has been exactly a year since beautiful War Memorial Field was selected to be the site of the 2017 tournament. Since that time, a local group led by Ephrata Legion Coach Derek Sipe, has been busy planning, fundraising, lining up facilities and looking ahead to the last week of July.

Now, that time is officially here.

“I’m ready for it to be here, that’s for sure,” Sipe said on Monday. “When we first started this, we had a very limited knowledge of what really goes into hosting this tournament. Obviously, it’s never been here before, and we didn’t have experience running it before, but as time went on we realized what it really entailed.

“All of the work that we had to put in and all of the different people involved in helping out, it’s just been a very long process. Hopefully it’s a process that a week from now it will be a good experience for everybody to come in and attend the tournament.”

The double-elimination tournament will feature champions from all seven regions throughout Pennsylvania, as well as host Ephrata, which last competed in States in 2012.

While on the field, Sipe has built Ephrata into one of the more dominant programs in Region 4 (the Chryslers have won District 10 six times in the last seven years and qualified for regionals seven times), he said he learned “on-the-fly” what it takes to bring such a prestigious tournament to the area.

“The biggest thing was raising funds,” Sipe said when asked of his biggest challenges throughout the year-long planning process. “We needed individuals and companies to really rally around the idea of the tournament, and we were able to get that…especially a lot of local Ephrata companies who stepped up in helping us raise money. The expense get up into the 10s of thousands of dollars. Our goal right away was to raise $35,000. That was kind of a staggering amount at first, and that took time to build, but over time we were able to get more and more people to help and support.

“(Raising the money) was the most daunting task that we needed to overcome,” he continued. “There are a lot of little things that we had to tie together that involved those monies, like putting on the Hall of Fame induction banquet. We were able to get the food, get the room and space to be able to do that, and we were able to keep that in Ephrata as well at New Joy Church. That was one of the first things I wanted to accomplish…getting as much of this as possible to stay in Ephrata, and we were able to do that. Between the banquet and the fundraising efforts, teams staying in the hotels and us paying for their food, and all of the little things that go into it as far as money is concerned, those things were definitely the biggest obstacles to overcome.”

While Sipe said they couldn’t put on a tournament of this magnitude without the generous support of the local businesses, the tourney should benefit those companies and Ephrata as a whole.

“Obviously there’s going to be a lot of people who will come into town to watch baseball,” he said. “We’ll have people coming in that probably have no reason to visit Ephrata, who are going to be here for a week. They will get to see what we are about, get to experience our community and companies and restaurants, and different stuff that we have going on here. The members of the community get to come out and watch and be a part of this, and that’s really what we wanted to be from Day One.

“We wanted it to be a community effort, not just a baseball thing. We wanted it to be an Ephrata thing. This is a big event. There are seven teams coming with dozens of fans from around the state. They are going to converge here with all of those people at once and get to spend a week in our town. It’s exciting for me to be the coach of the baseball team to have the baseball aspect of it but it’s also exciting being a person from Ephrata who grew up in Ephrata, to see this event coming here for the first time.”

And Sipe believes they’ll be able to pull off a top-notch event at War Memorial, which features an artificial turf playing surface and is considered one of the best facilities in the state.

“The work that has been put into the field over the last three to four years, to turn it into what it is now; it’s a premier facility,” Sipe said. “When you get down to the baseball aspect of it, that’s when things are easy for us. It will run smoothly for us. With the turf, we avoid issues with rain and the storms you get from time to time in the summer, and then outside of the field itself, we have the wonderful snack bar—the War Memorial Association does such a tremendous job— the bathrooms are elite compared to anywhere else you are going to go. It’s not just the field that sets us apart…it’s really the whole facility that comes together to make a special tournament for a lot of the players. For most of them, it’s probably the best facility they will ever play at during their careers.”

Now that most of the leg work is out of the way, Sipe and his Ephrata team can focus on competing in the tournament. This past week, they went two-and-out at the Region Four Tournament which obviously didn’t sit too well. They are looking for a much better showing next week with the eyes of the state gazing upon them.

“Obviously I’m excited for the baseball part of it,” Sipe said. “I think we have a team that is more than capable of competing for the State championship. I’m excited to watch them throughout the week and be a part of it from the baseball standpoint. I think there also may come a point in the tournament where I’m able to take a step back and see all the work we put in all come together hopefully in a positive way. I think that will be something that’s a very proud moment when that becomes a realization for me.”

The festivities for the week will actually get underway Monday night with the annual State Legion Banquet, which will be held at New Joy Church in Ephrata.

According to Sipe, New Joy Church was one of the organizations in town that “really came through and helped in a big way.”

“We don’t have a lot of facilities in Ephrata that are big enough to hold 300 people, and that’s what you need for this event,” he explained. “We were lucky to find this group that wanted to work with us. They also were able to cover our cost so we are getting the building at no expense which is tremendous. We really owe a lot to them.”

A baseball-themed buffet-style barbecue dinner will be served, beginning at 6:30 p.m. (doors open at 5:30 p.m.). Following dinner, the night will be capped off with the induction of six new members into the Pennsylvania State Legion Hall of Fame.

The banquet is open to the public and a limited number of tickets will be available at the door at a cost of $20. Tickets also may be purchased in advance by e-mail Sipe at: dsipe18@gmail.com.

Action gets underway on the ballfield Tuesday and will run through Saturday’s championship. Each day a different theme at the ballpark is planned, beginning with Tuesday’s Opening Festivities at the 9:30 a.m. game, followed by Alumni Night for the 7 p.m. game which will feature Ephrata seeing its first action of the tournament.

Ephrata Legion Post 429 members will be on hand for the opening ceremony, while all Legion alumni are invited to attend the nightcap game. The alums will be invited on the field for a photo prior to the contest.

“I think it will be a cool atmosphere just to know that we are playing under the lights and to be able to have as many former players as possible in the stands will be neat, because they are all part of how this tournament got here,” Sipe said. “It’s also the five-year anniversary of the 2012 team that made it to the State Tournament so we want to get as many of those guys there to be able to honor them.”

The game, which will feature Ephrata battling the Region 7 champion, will be broadcast live by Blue Ridge Cable on BRC11.

Wednesday’s theme for all four games played will be Youth Day. All youth baseball players who wear a baseball jersey to the game will be admitted free.

Several different Ephrata youth teams will be honored throughout the day, including the Ephrata 12U Dragons, who will be recognized prior to the 7 p.m. game for winning the recent LNP Tournament.

Thursday’s theme is Veterans Day. Several veterans organizations will be honored throughout the day, capped off with the Post 429 Legion being recognized prior to the 7 p.m. contest.

It should be noted that during the entire day, 50 percent of all admission money collected will be donated to the Pennsylvania Wounded Warrior Project.

“I’m really looking forward to this day,” Sipe said. “When you take a step back, this event is less about Ephrata and less about baseball and more about the veterans organizations that created this opportunity for kids to play baseball.”

Friday will feature two games as the tournament field pares down to a select few. During the 7 p.m. game, all Lancaster County legion teams will be honored on the field.

And championship Saturday begins with the first game starting at noon. There will be one unbeaten team remaining, and if that team wins they will be crowned state champs. If the team that comes through the loser’s bracket is victorious, a second and final game will be played between the two teams at approximately 4:15 p.m.

Prior to Game One Saturday, the 1990 Ephrata Legion team, which was the first Lancaster County team to ever advance out of States and onto National Regionals, will be recognized.

Admission each day will be $6 per adult and $4 for kids. On the first two days, which will include four games each, a ticket is good for a doubleheader.

Tournament T-shirts and commemorative programs will also be on sale throughout the week.

“It’s hard to believe in 91 years of this that it’s never been in the county before,” Sipe said. “And our county hasn’t been weak in baseball throughout the history. I mean there have been a lot of good baseball players to come out of Lancaster County, and some very good teams that have been in the area. It’s kind of shocking that this has never been here before. We are honored to be the first, and it’s an opportunity to show what we are all about, not only the type of baseball that we have but also the type of event that we can put on. I can’t wait to get it going.”


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