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Softball Gods smile on the Early Bird

Corky's, softball, Owatonna, Steele County, Early Bird Classic, Rick Scherr, Geno Bluhm, Adam Scherr, James Corky Ebeling
Left to right: Rick Scherr, Geno Bluhm, Adam “Braun Strowman” Scherr and James “Corky” Ebeling pose for a photo at the Corky’s Early Bird Classic. Submitted photo
Johnnie Phillips, Sports Editor

The softball Gods smiled upon the 42nd annual Corky’s Early Bird Classic Softball Tournament this past weekend as play kicked off last Friday with sunny 70-degree weather.

Members of the community and out-of-state spectators came out in numbers to the Steele County Fairgrounds and the Alexander Park ballparks in Faribault to take in one of the United States’ biggest softball tournaments of the year with 170 teams in action.

Play ran from Friday night to Sunday afternoon as teams competed across six total divisions with men’s and women’s bracket games being played one after the next.

Taking home the premier wins in the men’s and women’s open division were two Iowa teams who came up for the tournament.

“The Herd” was victorious in the men’s open division against “T’s 13” from Nebraska, while Iowa’s “On Point” beat local Minnesota team “Wild 1’s/Showcase Renovations Inc./Keller Construction/S2N.”

However, the athletes weren’t the only winners at the Early Bird Classic this year.

Family, friends and spectators alike were able to enjoy an atmosphere that featured food, merchandise and celebrity appearances over the course of the three-day tournament.

Tom-Thumb Donuts and local favorite pork burgers were plentiful for spectators to snack on during games, while Celebrity guest Adam Scherr – more commonly known as WWE’s “Braun Strowman” – was out enjoying the games.

While some rain did fall on Saturday, it was not enough to deter the crowds as play resumed according to plan and the event went on as originally scheduled.

After having dealt with the COVID-19 pandemic for the last two years, this year’s 42nd annual Early Bird Classic marks the first time that the tournament has gone on as planned over its first weekend of May annual start time since 2019.

Former tournament director and tournament namesake James “Corky” Ebeling said it was an amazing feeling knowing that the Early Bird – which began back in 1979 – was to be back on track and in full strength in 2022.

The Early Bird Classic expects to raise between $30,000-50,000 for local charities and causes, and Owatonna Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Brad Meier said that the chamber expects over $600,000 worth of business to come to Steele County during the tournament.

Revenue numbers from the tournament were not available at the time of press.

Those looking to take in the next Corky’s Early Bird Classic will have to wait for the first week of May in 2023.

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