MARSHALL: Clanton tourney thriving

7/1/2014

There was reason to celebrate baseball in Garden City during the just recently completed Jim Clanton Memorial Tournament.

There was reason to celebrate baseball in Garden City during the just recently completed Jim Clanton Memorial Tournament.

Twenty-three teams in three age divisions competed from Thursday night through late Sunday afternoon for titles in their respective groups.

A good portion of those teams came from far away, those that would be housed in local hotels, eat at local restaurants, buy gas at local stations and shop in what is becoming western Kansas' retail Mecca.

That's all well and good, but the real success of the Clanton comes in the resurrection of sorts of this long-standing baseball event, which began in 1988 behind the efforts of local baseball enthusiasts Juanita and Lyman Walck of Holcomb, who wanted to honor Jim Clanton for his support of youth baseball in the Garden City and surrounding area.

"What they had in mind, and the vision to honor my father has really been a wonderful thing for baseball and youth here," Lee Clanton, third son of Jim, said in a Sunday interview during a brief break in play at Clint Lightner Stadium. "Whoever was running the baseball at the time, my father took it over as an organizational manager. He did everything he could possible do to help baseball. I think his interest was keeping the youth active, and providing a quality program for them. Hopefully, we'll continue to do that for them."

In its heyday of the 1990s and early 2000s, the tournament attracted around 20 to 22 teams, coming from Nebraska, Colorado, Oklahoma and from different portions of Kansas.

As recent as 2007, the tournament still had 17 teams participating, but then the tournament and its organizers hit the skids. In 2008, only six teams made the trek to Garden City, with 11 competing in 2009. It hit its low ebb in 2010, when there were just four teams, and the event was nearly on its death bed.

"I think he'd be happy with where we are now," Lee Clanton said. "Until last year, the numbers fell off. It takes a lot of people working hard to put on this kind of event. It's hard to draw people out here to western Kansas."

Mother Nature always presents a challenge to outdoor sporting events, but nothing could have prepared the Clanton organizers, and the staff of the Garden City Recreation Commission and the baseball staff at Garden City Community College, for the nearly 5-inch rain over night Friday. With dugouts full of water at Williams Stadium, organizers were only able to use Academy Field (starting at 1 p.m.) and Clint Lightner, which now is blessed with an artificial turf infield and better outfield drainage.

"The size of the tournament I like," Lee Clanton said. "We're pushing it time-wise, and I don't know if we can squeeze more games in, especially if you deal with weather delays like this year."

Clanton said he would like to draw more teams from out-of-state to increase the overall quality of the teams participating.

"I'm not saying it's not competitive, but we want more people from far away to see what we've got here," Clanton said. "This is a gem with the facilities we've got. It's ridiculous how good this is here now."

One of the big changes this year also came in the switch from the older Garden City group changing affiliation from Babe Ruth to become the Harry Renick American Legion Post No. 9.

"They've been very supportive of us, and they're more than happy to do whatever they can to help us," Clanton said of the Legion post. "I really like the switch because with the Legion, we've got the freedom to play anywhere and don't have to be tied to a league. We can qualify for district, play zone, qualify for state, and play the schedule we want."

As with any summer sports venture, it takes a certain amount of monetary support to make the Garden City Elite team possible. And Clanton says in the first year, the local community has stepped up in a big way.

"Several sponsors have been way more generous than I could imagine," Clanton said. "The biggest thing (expense) for us is travel. We go to Pueblo, Colorado Springs and Salina for our main out-of-town travel. The thing we'd like to see is to be able to get away from asking our players, and their families, for a fee to help with expenses. For some of those families, it's a financial burden. We're on our way to eliminating that. Several donors have helped tremendously."

Clanton said the team began fund-raisers in March, but would like to see it become a year-round effort.

"This needs to be a 12-month process," Clanton said. "There's no reason we can't have a chili feed in October, and keep our name in the public all year. We don't need to do it for just two months."

But with a highly-successful tournament just put to bed, the Clanton Memorial appears to be on solid footing.

Garden City should take pride in the fact that baseball has made a comeback, and the Clanton Memorial is proof.

Sports Editor Brett Marshall can be emailed at bmarshall@gctelegram.com

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