Community support makes benefit tourney a hit

Photos by Caitlin O'Hara/The Herald
Grant Lashley of Lamar, 13, connected with a pitch during the annual Josh Suhrheinrich Memorial Wiffle Ball Benefit on Saturday in Dale. Suhrheinrich was a junior at Heritage Hills High School when he died in a single-car accident in May of 2011. His friends began the tournament two years ago to benefit a scholarship at the school that’s given in Suhrheinrich’s name. The tournament has grown each year, from 11 teams in 2011 to 20 squads last summer to 23 teams this year.

Herald Sports Editor

DALE — Jordan Morrison glanced over his shoulder to the backyard of his childhood home, which sits a tape-measure-home-run’s distance from one of the diamonds at the Dale Youth Fields.

The memory takes Morrison back. Him, Kevin Spellmeyer and Josh Suhrheinrich, spending their days hitting and running the bases on a compact plot of backyard grass that was the ideal size for a game of Wiffle ball among buddies who were 10 years old or younger.

“We were always playing baseball, and Josh was even a couple years younger than us, but we were always really close and always hanging around, especially at the baseball fields,” Morrison said of the summers spent at the adjacent Dale Youth Fields on the heels of those backyard battles waged with a plastic bat and ball.

“It was really ironic how it all worked out, because I think some of my first memories with Josh were up there at Morrison’s house right there, playing Wiffle ball in the back yard, using that little fence back there as the home run (wall) back then,” Spellmeyer added.

Logan Smallwood of Santa Claus, 13, scored a run during the annual Josh Suhrheinrich Memorial Wiffle Ball Benefit in Dale on Saturday.

Everyone seems to relish at least one such enduring memory of Suhrheinrich, who was finishing his junior year at Heritage Hills High School when he died in a single-car accident in May of 2011. Josh, who was the Patriot basketball team’s leading scorer that year, may have specialized in basketball. But those who knew him best agree: There may be no way more appropriate to memorialize his memory than with a Wiffle ball bash.

That’s what attracted almost two dozen teams and a few hundred people to the Dale fields Saturday for the Josh Suhrheinrich Memorial Wiffle Ball Benefit. Morrison and Spellmeyer were responsible for getting the first tournament rolling in 2012 and it’s more than doubled in size, from 11 teams then to 23 squads for this year’s event. Talk to Josh’s friends, and they’ll tell you that Josh’s big-hearted nature is one reason the tourney continues to blossom.

“I’d come home from college to play some basketball with him at the Dale Community Center, and it seems like we could never play basketball because we’d end up spending about an hour or two hours catching up,” Spellmeyer noted.

“He was everybody’s friend. Even if he just met you,” Morrison added, completing the thought. “You can definitely sense (Josh’s) presence here and can tell he was loved and was a guy everybody wanted to be around.”

Talk to Josh’s parents, and they’ll tell you that his friends and their families are just as central to the cause.

The tourney’s proceeds benefit a scholarship in Josh’s name, and after two scholarships were doled out in 2012 and ’13, there were enough worthy applicants and funding to merit a third scholarship this year. Recently graduated Heritage Hills seniors Devon Merder, Spenser Minto and Olivia Morris are this year’s winners, and during a brief noontime ceremony Saturday to recognize the recipients and address the crowd, Josh’s mother, Theresa, began thanking Morrison and Spellmeyer for all they’d done — from obtaining sponsors to handling T-shirt orders to wrangling volunteers.

Roxanne Snyder of Santa Claus, right, hugged Josh Suhrheinrich’s mother, Theresa, during the annual memorial Wiffle ball tournament in Dale on Saturday. Snyder was Josh’s godmother.

Only a few words in, Theresa stopped. Feeling the onset of tears, she couldn’t continue the thread of thanks.

“The most touching thing, what I wanted to say earlier, is that when we started the youth league and Josh came down here at (age) 7, we had a little yard barn over here,” Theresa said shortly later, motioning to the shack-sized building which was once the concession stand. A few feet away is the current, spacious concession stand which Morrison and Spellmeyer’s parents were instrumental in raising funds to finish.

“The Spellmeyers and Morrisons were real involved in (obtaining the new concession stand). And then to see them hand over their legacy to their sons, and then all those sons raising money and doing the same thing that they did, they have to be so proud,” she finished.

From all angles, Theresa could feel the love.

Theresa Suhrheinrich wiped a tear as she spoke at a remembrance ceremony for her son, Josh, during the tournament in Dale on Saturday.

She glanced nearby to her right where 2009 Patriot grad Jeff Echelbarger, a former basketball teammate of Josh’s, sat in a folding chair watching the midday home run derby. The guy at the plate taking cuts was Jake Fella, who was among the squad of Josh’s closest friends who won the inaugural Wiffle ball tourney two years ago.

“Team America. They’re dandies,” Theresa said, smiling.

Devon Wahl was also on that team; he was one of the scholarship’s first two winners in 2012 and volunteered as an umpire Saturday. Jack Woolems was on the squad, too; his parents, Jeff and Tammy, donated the trophies for Saturday’s festivities.

“They just keep moving and bringing (the tournament) together,” Theresa said of Josh’s friends and their families.

“We just love the community we live in. We really do.”

The sentiment was reciprocated to Theresa and husband Bob, who’s commonly called “Boo,” and friends guarantee that if Josh were still around, he would eat up the Wiffle ball scene. Dylan Anderson, a classmate of Josh’s who now lives in Dubois, is pretty certain that Josh would be the one to rule over the home run derby. Stately in stature yet gentle in his nature; it’s how Anderson and everyone else remember Josh.

Julian Lupfer of Poseyville, 4, left, and his cousin Mason Ayer of Dale, 13, relaxed in a makeshift pool in Mason’s father’s truck during the Josh Suhrheinrich Memorial Wiffle Ball Benefit in Dale on Saturday.

“Everything I do, it seems like, it reminds me of him. Every day, I see something that reminds me of him — all good memories,” Anderson said.

“It’s awesome to see how many people turn out and see how many people are here to support, to be here for Josh. It’s probably the best weekend out of the year for me, just coming here to be here for Josh and for everybody else, and for Theresa and Boo.”

Contact Brendan Perkins at

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