The 2019 Labor Day weekend was the end of an era. For 73 years, Prospect, N.Y. was home to the the longest consecutive men’s fast pitch tournament. This year the tournament was canceled due to lack of teams.
In Elkland, the the 66th annual Durk Sherman Classic hosted just eight teams this year, a noted decline from years ago. In 1975, the tournament had to halt its entries after amassing an astounding 28 teams. Further emphasizing the town’s renown as a softball haven, Molly Sherman wrote in The Fifth Quarter that, “Most of the teams travel hundreds of miles to visit what they call Softball Center USA.”
Part of the decline comes from an increased reliance on international talent. “What happens is a lot of teams have international players. After the International Softball Congress, those players go to their home countries,” said Lorna Sherman, secretary for Elkland Softball Association.
Despite the decline in teams, the Durk Sherman Classic continues to be the place to be for many Elkland residents. From the games on the field to food and friends, the ballpark offers a unique atmosphere that can’t be replicated.
“This is the thing to do in Elkland on Labor Day,” David Shaefer said. Shaefer has frequented the tournament for 35 years, first as a player and now as a spectator. Shaefer recounted some of his favorite ballpark memories, as he stood near the right field fence. For longtime fans, the right fence line has been one of the best views in the stadium. From Saturday through Monday the right field line is packed with spectators.
In recent years, the ballpark has undergone a few renovations to enhance the viewing experience. Benches along the third base fence as well as added seating above the third base dugout have offered more opportunities for fans to enjoy the game.
Since the stadium was built. there have been constant improvements to enhance the experience for fans. “In 1959, the Merchants erected seven poles of four 1500 kw lights — the only lighted field in Tioga County,” Sherman wrote in The Fifth Quarter. She added, “Fire ruined the grandstand in 1961 but not the team spirit. It was rebuilt in 1962 with two additional seats for the growing softball followers.”
As the ballpark has undergone changes, one thing has always remained the same the atmosphere. As Al Rose, a 15-year returning fan from Lockport, N.Y. said, “The atmosphere is great. Everybody here seems like they love baseball or softball.”