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Softball: Abrahamson tourney tradition to end in 2019

After 19 years, the Ashley Abrahamson softball tournament is a Northland tradition. This year, 20 teams from all over the area competed in three tiers: U-14 and two tiers of U-12 play.

Next year's tournament, however, will be bittersweet. The 20th annual event will also be the last.

"It's time," tournament co-director Ron Tondryk said. "We've done this for 20 years and it's time. It's going to be a hard thing to see come to an end, but we all agree that next year will be the last (tournament)."

Abrahamson was killed in a car accident in 2000 at age 13. The aspiring softball player was loved by all who knew her and as a result, the tournament which bears her name was born.

Tondryk's daughter, Sarah Wondrasek, is the tournament's other co-director. She was a classmate of Abrahamson's and continued to run the tournament in memory of her friend.

"It's a labor of love," she said. "There's a lot to do to have the tournament every year, but it's always been great."

For the record, Cherry defended its 14-U tier championship over the Moose Lake-Willow River Blizzards, with Esko defeating Cloquet B&B for third place. Cloquet's Minnesota Blast won the 12-U Tier I event, with Moose Lake taking the consolation title. Cloquet State Farm won the 12-U Tier II tournament.

But the point of the Abrahamson tournament isn't necessarily wins and losses. It's about encouraging girls to get out and play, to love the game and to become a good teammate.

The annual "Ashley Awards" symbolize what the tournament is all about. Each team's coach selects one player who best fits Abrahamson's spirit for a special award. It's not always about being the best player — but it's about being the best person you can be.

"Ashley was always one who wanted to work hard, wanted to learn and loved to play," Tondryk said. "One summer she came up to me and asked, 'Coach, can I pitch?' I told her that she couldn't pitch unless she practiced at least 50 pitches a day. Soon, she came back and said she was throwing 100 pitches a day with her dad in the backyard and asked again if she could pitch.

"That's what Ashley was," Tondryk said. "Hard work is rewarded."

Jim and Kathy Abrahamsson give each player in the tournament a T-shirt each year, and Wondrasek says they serve as a sort of living chronology around town.

"We see the shirts everywhere and it tells us when people played in the event," she said. "It's a great way to remember Ashley, of course, but it speaks to the longevity of the event."

So, what legacy will the tournament leave?

"To be a good teammate and a good person," Tondryk said. "We have so many great young ladies play in this event and it's wonderful. I think that would be a great way for kids to remember playing in this event."

And what would Ashley say?

"She'd probably just smile," Wondrasek said. "She didn't say a whole lot — she was a pretty quiet person — but she would definitely be smiling because kids were having fun playing softball."