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PREVIEW: Whiffleball Playoffs Swing Into Town

The Skokie Park District has a hit as it again sponsors the national championship games.

Thirty years ago, Jim Bottorff and one of his friends had the idea to organize a whiffleball tournament in Mishawaka, IN. Over time, the competition grew into the World Whiffleball Championship that attracted more than 55 teams in 2010.

So when Bottorff moved to the North Shore and started working as the Skokie Park District’s spokesman, naturally whiffleball would follow.

Bottorff, in conjunction with the Park District, started the National Whiffleball Championship, and Saturday marks the third year that the tournament will be held at Channelside Park.

“We were looking to do something fun here at Skokie Park District,” said Bottorff, the agency's communication and marketing manager.

For the 2011 tournament, 29 teams from eight states have registered. The field includes defending national and world champions, the Balco Boys, who are led by Joe Stratton and Dan Zieger.

Four teams in this year’s tournament have won world championships.

Skokie’s proximity to Chicago has helped the tournament grow in its first few years and many of the teams consist of local residents, who enter just to have some old-time childhood fun.

“We’ve got players who are 10 [years old] and players who are 60. It’s all over the place,” Bottorff said. “We get family teams and teams with old guys who can barely run anymore.”

The game was developed by David Mullany of Connecticut in 1953 with the help of his son. Decades later, two grandsons continue the family tradition by operating The Whiffle Ball Inc.

While there are many variations of whiffleball, Bottorff helped standardize an official set of rules and procedures. Teams are composed of five players and games typically last six innings. Some of the more unique rules include making force outs at first base by getting the ball to the pitcher and the ability to peg a base runner below the neck to record an out.

For a $120 registration fee, each team plays at least four games in pool play and receives tournament T-shirts. While Saturday’s tournament is not a qualifier for the world championships held in July, the top two teams will have their World Whiffleball Championship entry fee paid for by the Park District.

The tournament will have games playing on 12 fields at Channelside Park, 3219 Main St., so spectators will be able to take in all the action from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday.

“Last year, we had probably 150 people out here just to stop by and check it out,” Bottorff said.

For more information on the World Whiffleball Championship, including a complete set of rules, go to www.whiffleball.org

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