It says a lot about John Holland that he never coached a day of high school softball, he left no lasting legacy that one could find in a record book before he died at the all-too-young age of 49, and he resides in no official Hall of Fame — yet he’s become an indelible part of Memorial Day weekend in Lynn.
Holland was a doer, but in a different sense. He did most of his best work behind the scenes, although he did coach Little League and Babe Ruth while he was alive. But his legacy is in a baseball/softball complex at Breed Middle School, and in youth soccer, and as the founder of the Babe Ruth softball program.
This weekend, for the 22nd time since Holland’s death in 1996, four high school softball teams from the area — three of them from Lynn — will compete in the John G. Holland Memorial Softball Tournament at Breed Middle School’s Rogato Field.
Action gets underway Saturday, with Swampscott facing English at 6; and Classical taking on St. Mary’s at 8. The consolation is Sunday at 11 a.m., followed by the championship game at 1. Between the two games, four scholarship winners — one from each participating school — will be announced.
After Holland died of cancer, having a softball tournament as a bookend to the Nipper Clancy baseball tournament seemed to be the best way to honor him. He was, after all, instrumental in establishing a Babe Ruth softball league in Lynn, and locating it at the fledgling Babe Ruth complex — a facility he was very much involved in when it was finally completed in time for the 1993 season.
Holland was president of Lynn Babe Ruth at the time, and in the interest of full disclosure, I was on his board. We knew each other from our Pine Hill Little League days, and while he could sometimes be gruff and argumentative, he was also someone you could rely on when it came to getting things done. He was also someone you could rely on to know what the priorities were when it came to youth sports. Those would be the kids. You’d be amazed at the number of adults who get involved in kids’ sports but act as if the whole thing’s about them.
The Holland, like the Clancy, has undergone some changes in recent years. In the early part of this decade, the Clancy family stepped down from running its event, and it has since been taken over by the Lynn schools. It hasn’t missed a beat.
Similarly, four years ago, the Holland family, which had been running the tournament, felt it was time it stepped back. Now it is run by Lynn Babe Ruth. And except for one year when it couldn’t raise enough funds for scholarships, it, too, has endured.
This year, a committee of five has worked to put this tournament on: Jeff Earp, Paul Hartford, Dave Raymond, John Hoffman and yours truly.
Neither Swampscott nor English will be competing in the postseason. For the Bulldogs, this weekend will represent the end of the season. Coach Cara Crowley is in the process of taking a team that was very short on experience back in April and molding it to her way of playing the game. If she can do that — and I wouldn’t get against her — then watch out for the Bulldogs in the future.
Coincidentally, the two teams met Thursday. The Big Blue, 5-11 after Thursday’s win over the Bulldogs, still have a makeup game left against Revere next week.
Last year, Swampscott and St. Mary’s played for the title, with the Spartans winning. This year, the Big Blue have had to soldier on without all-star pitcher Hannah Leahy.
Recently, the 11-7 Rams and 10-6 Spartans have been the two annual heavyweights of this tournament. Both have struggled at times this season, but both also seem to be peaking at the right time.
Spartans coach Paige Licata has weathered the post-Mia Nowicki adjustment to qualify for the post-season tournament, and Erica Richard’s Rams qualified last week as well. Two of her losses have come against Austin Prep, whose pitcher, Logan MacDonald, could claim to be the best in the state and get no argument from anyone (the Cougars beat St. Mary’s twice as well).
Both teams are coming off big wins — the Spartans Tuesday against Williams (which qualified them for the tournament) and Classical Wednesday against Everett.
There’s a ton of competition this weekend when it comes to end-of-season tournaments, but if you have a chance between Saturday and Sunday to get over to Breed to support this tournament, it’ll be worth your while.