The Roy A. Overholt Invitational Tournament turns 50 this year. Often referred to as the World Series of District 9, the 17-day, single-elimination tournament featuring the premier Little League teams in the district kicks off on Monday, Aug. 5.
Last year, the LaGrange Yankees cruised past Berwyn 12-3 to win the title. Led by pitcher Jake Garvey and slugger Max Buffo, the Brookfield Demons will try to claim this year’s championship along with other nearby representatives from Riverside, North Riverside, LaGrange Park, Pleasantdale, Lyons, Berwyn and Cicero.
Roy A. Overholt, who was born in the Hollywood section of Brookfield in 1924, started the tournament in 1964 when he asked winning teams from area Little League organizations to participate in a tournament. The only major part of Overholt’s life that has lasted longer has been his 65-year marriage with his beloved wife and fellow baseball fanatic, Audrey.
“I got the idea for the tournament because it seemed like there were a lot of all-star teams and games that had nothing to do with first-place teams,” Overholt said. “Our tournament invites Little League championship teams from District 9, so it’s unique in that way, plus we were the only tournament with lights when we first started.”
A half a century later, the Overholt tournament at the field bearing his name in Kiwanis Park is regarded as a near west suburban jewel of Little League baseball late summer events.
The invite-only format featuring Major Division championship teams coupled with pennant flags adorning the outfield fence, pristine field conditions, big crowd and longtime announcer Tony Carey calling the action all provide indelible memories for the players (primarily ages 11 and 12) in the tournament.
Chris Agne, the vice president of the Riverside-Brookfield High School Booster Club, fondly recalls playing in the tourney as a member of South Cicero’s 1973 and 1974 squads.
“I remember going to Overholt was like playing in the big leagues,” said Agne, whose son Justin is the starting catcher on the RBHS baseball team. “I remember the chance to play at night, brick dugouts, Kiwanis Park, those were incentives to win the respective league you played in. I can still hear my South Cicero Senators’ coach, Jerry Forst, say, ‘We win this game and we’re going to Overholt.’ If there ever was a local field of dreams, it’s without question the Overholt Tournament field at Kiwanis Park.”
Marty Berek, who coached the Brookfield Flaming Red Hot Cheetos at Overholt in 2009, also praised the timeless tournament and its founder.
“Mr. Overholt is a living legend when you’re talking about baseball in Brookfield,” Berek said. “He is very involved with the tournament and has set it to such a high standard. Everything about the tournament is just perfect, and the kids have a great time.”
Overholt, 89, took regular care of the field until recently, but he will remain highly visible when this year’s edition of the summer classic kicks off on Aug. 5.
“The tournament is really for the kids,” he said. “It keeps them out of trouble and gives them something to strive for as a team. I’ve coached [at the tournament] in the past and I didn’t want it to end each year any more than the kids.”
While Brookfield has claimed a plenty of tournament titles through the years, Overholt proudly points to the hometown team’s 1995 title run as his favorite. His grandson, Joe Olsowka, belted a home run in the team’s 11-0 semifinal victory over South Cicero. In the championship game, Olsowka struck out 10 and picked up the win, powering Brookfield past Pleasantdale 4-2.
By cool coincidence, the Brookfield and Pleasantdale teams met at the same restaurant after their championship tussle.
“All the kids from both teams were reliving the game at dinner,” Audrey Overholt said. “That’s what makes the tournament so special. These kids are so impressionable at ages 11 and 12.You can see their eyes light up when they are playing in the tournament and when they see Roy, too.”
As for Roy and Audrey, their eyes lit up when they first met in 1946.
“We met on New Year’s Eve at a dance at Kingdom Hall,” Audrey recalled. “It was five dollars a couple, and that was big money back in those days. He was with someone else and so was I. A few weeks later, Roy called me and we got married a year later on January 24.”
The best lineup card the Brookfield couple has ever filled out includes the following team members: five children, 10 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. Their sons Ray, Gary, Tom and David all played in the Overholt tournament, while Audrey describes their daughter Nancy as “my joy.”
“We have been very blessed,” she said. “I think Roy and I try to stay active. That’s important in life.”
Audrey added: “Roy had cancer three years ago, but he came out like a million bucks. The doctor said he healed like a 19 year old. We have a condo in the Clearwater [Fla.] area so we spend time there every year. He worked outside for most of his life, so he enjoys Florida.”
In the short term, the Overholt’s focus is on enjoying the 50th anniversary of the tournament they created.
A 50th anniversary celebration will take place on Sunday, Sept. 1 from 3 p.m. until dusk at Kiwanis Park. Food, drinks, a bags tournament, horseshoes, volleyball, a DJ and, of course, a ballgame are all part of the festivities.
A presentation and recognition of Roy’s volunteerism spanning five decades will occur at 6 p.m.
“Roy really made the tournament special,” said Jim Bednar, former president of the Brookfield Little League from 2006-2012. “He told me how surprised he was the tournament took off like it did. But because we were the only tournament with lights [initially] plus a great field, everybody wanted to play here.”
In approximately three weeks, one of the 12 teams from the loaded Little League field will be crowned a worthy champion. Per tradition, Roy will acknowledge them.
“I congratulate the kids and shake each one of their hands,” he said. “I like to tell them always do your best and have fun.”
It’s fitting advice since considering the Brookfield baseball lifer has been doing essentially same thing at his tournament the past 50 years.