It's been a decade since the Nelson family of Hailey announced that 25 years of organizing one of southern Idaho's best Little League baseball tournaments was quite enough and they wouldn't be doing it again.
All those outside the Nelson family understood the decision because of all the hard work involved.
There was some hand wringing at first among baseball enthusiasts because of what the Nelsons brought to the table in every aspect of tournament. Fear not. Parents of up-and-coming young ballplayers picked up the ball and ran.
One of the most important parents in keeping the Ray Nelson Little League tournament tradition alive has been Mike Brunker of Bellevue. He and wife Buffy have organized the mid-July baseball tournament for five years.
Last week, at a parent organizational meeting for the tournament, Brunker took a few minutes and explained to some of the newer parent volunteers about how important the Ray Nelson has been to generations of young baseball players.
It's always been the biggest event of the baseball summer for kids in the 9-10 and 11-12 age classes. 2006 is no exception.
The "rite of passage," known as the Ray Nelson Invitational Little League tournament returns to Hailey this weekend.
The 35th annual Ray Nelson tournament is Friday and Saturday, July 14-15—all its games to be played at Nelson Field sandwiched between the elementary school and rodeo grounds in Hailey.
Games begin Friday at 8 a.m., at which time the two Wood River teams in the 18-team, 38-game tournament will be playing their first games.
Wood River's entry in the 10-team "Major Division" for kids ages 11-12 is coached by Billy Kramer and Morgan Uhrig. Players include Kaitana Martinez, Nick Brunker, Braxton Parish, Connor Braatz, Colton Braatz, Tim Boyle, Tom Crosby, Ben Williams, Max Jones, Johnny Paris, Emmet Fortuin and Eli McNees.
Alternates on the 11-12 All-Star WR East team are Jimmy Williams, Kevin Cooley and James Landes.
Wood River's 11-12s sponsored by Uhrig Fencing, Power Engineers and Pepsi clash with the Heyburn/Paul 'Dawgs at 8 a.m. Friday. Unfortunately one of the team's most valuable pitchers and players, Max Jones, is out for the season with a sore elbow.
Andy Portillo, Scott Carter and Don Cooper are the coaches of Wood River's entry in the eight-team 9-10 "Minor Division." Team sponsors are Hamilton Jewelers and Rocky Mountain Hardware.
Players include Gray David, Jason Williams, Cody Carter, Logan Portillo, Tristan Kulhanek, Anders Fortuin, Jim Graves, Luke Young, Finn Isaacson, Kyle Weller, Chris Traylor and Shelby Cooper.
Wood River's 9-10s go up against their rivals the Burley River Cats at 8 a.m. Friday.
Other teams in the two-day tournament come from Meridian, Burley, Buhl, Twin Falls, Nampa, Rupert, Heyburn-Paul, Pocatello and Tremonton, Utah (Bear River Cats).
One of the hardest parts of Brunker's job is turning away teams that want to play, but organizers are determined to have all the games on Nelson Field so the number of out-of-town teams has been restricted.
Brunker said, "I wish we could accommodate all the teams that want to come to Hailey. This year, we had more calls from teams interested in the 9-10 tournament so that's a good sign for the next few years."
Friday night's activities include a dinner for all Nelson tournament participants and their families. Also, the nearby Blaine County Aquatic Center has invited players to swim free of charge on Friday evening.
Saturday's Cub Scout breakfast from 7-11 a.m. within easy walking distance by the grade school is a popular rendezvous for those in the Nelson. And concessions are available all weekend at Nelson Field.
Championship games in each age division are at 4:45 p.m. Saturday.
Last year they played 37 games over two days—but there was no stopping the Fruitland Young Guns. The Fruitland All-Stars outscored four opponents 48-8 and beat Rupert Rangers 13-4 in the final. WR East placed fourth with a narrow 6-5 loss to third-place Meridian Heat.
Twin Falls Cowboys won the 9-10 "Minors" 20-5 over Meridian Astros and Wood River won the sportsmanship award. In all, the 18 tournament teams scored a grand total of 569 runs last year.
No Wood River team has won the Nelson since 2000, when WR East defeated Salmon 12-5. In 2003, WR South ended up second in 11-12.
The tournament is named for Ray Nelson, a baseball booster from Hailey. He bequeathed a love of the game to family members and friends when he passed away in 1970.