Swinging for the fences to cure ALS

courtesy of John Cronin • Last year’s ALS Wiffleball Tournament raised just over $3,100 for the ALS Association. West St. Paul resident John Cronin took a backyard favorite and turned it into a tournament to raise funds and awareness for the disease.

What started off with four teams in a backyard has turned into an all-day, annual wiffleball tournament, but the goal has remained the same: to raise money to help find a cure for ALS.

John Cronin, a 19-year-old Henry Sibley High School alum from West St. Paul, started the ALS Wiffleball Tournament in 2013 as a way to show support for a family member. His sister-in-law’s uncle, Michael Brandt, was living with ALS. 

“At the time, I loved wiffleball and I had just put a fence up in my backyard, like a home run fence, and we also had a field back there so it just seemed like a perfect time,” he says.

ALS, which stands for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and is also known as Lou Gherig’s disease, causes the death of neurons in the brain that control voluntary muscle movement. In most cases, those who have the disease die within two to four years from its onset. There is no cure, and in the vast majority of cases doctors don’t know what causes it.

That first year the tournament raised $700 for the ALS Association Minnesota/North Dakota/South Dakota Chapter, with the support coming mostly from friends and family.

Cronin says the tournament has pretty much doubled in size every year, whether by the number of teams playing or the funds raised. 

The ALS Wiffleball Tournament is an official ALS third-party event. Cronin says the ALS Association is the only ALS organization that serves on three fronts: advocacy, research and serving those battling the disease.


Finding encouragement

Cronin will cold call businesses, little leagues and others across the Twin Cities looking for people who want to be involved.

When he first started the tournament, he says he didn’t imagine it would become what it is today. The 2013 tournament was the only one Brandt attended. He passed away in early 2014.

“At the end of the first tournament he told me to keep up the good work and that it was a great event I put on,” Cronin says. “It kind of encouraged me to keep doing it.”

It was the second year that Cronin realized he might have something that could be done year after year to raise money.

Another inspiration for the tournament is Steve Lufkin, Cronin’s former math teacher at Henry Sibley. Lufkin was diagnosed with ALS in 2014 and has attended the tournament each year since.

This year’s tournament will be held at Harmon Park, but teams — some 30 are expected — will be coming from all over the metro.

Cronin says his goal for the tournament is to not only be a fundraiser for the ALS Association, but also a fun day for the community.

“It means a lot having a community, local businesses being sponsors and making donations,” he says.

The 2018 ALS Wiffleball Tournament begins at 8:30 a.m., on Saturday, Aug. 4, with an opening ceremony. 

From 9 a.m. to noon, there will be pool play, and beginning at 12:30 p.m., pool-winning teams will move onto single elimination tournament play. There will also be a home run derby going on all day, which will have a cash prize. The cost per team to enter is $50.

Teams can still register for the tournament through Aug. 1. Visit www.alswiffleball.com/register to register. 

Cronin says the goal this year is to raise $6,000, double what was raised last year. 


— Hannah Burlingame

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