BRIDGEWATER, NJ - Hundreds of softball players will fan out throughout Somerset County on Saturday, July 8th to play ball for a cause in the 25th annual Jack Gardner Softball Tournament.
Jack’s Kids will be the beneficiaries of the day’s events, which culminates with an afternoon party and awards’ ceremony at the Somerville Elks Lodge #1068, 375 Union Ave., Bridgewater.
Jack’s Kids is a non-profit organization that helps to ease the financial burden for families dealing with serious childhood illnesses and/or serious disabilities; many of these children have spent most of their life in and out of hospitals.
More than 50 softball teams, including 14 women’s teams, have already signed up for the round robin tournament. Entry fee is $400, which entitles each team to a minimum of three games. There are two brackets, competitive and recreational.
Jack’s Kids is named in memory of Jack Gardner, a former detective in the Somerset County Prosecutor’s Office and later warden of the Somerset County Jail. He grew up in North Plainfield, where he was an outstanding athlete in football, basketball, and baseball.
He was also a member of the Somerville Elks Lodge #1068.
“Jack was a treasure. His main virtue was his willingness to help people,” said Hank Werner, a Bernards Township police officer and Jack’s Kids chairman the past five years. “Anyone who came to Jack for help was assured that he would come through. Throughout Somerset County he is noted for helping many people, especially the younger generation. He was kind, thoughtful and always gave of himself,” Werner added.
Jack’s Kids began in 1992 when Pierce Frauenheim, retired football coach at Immaculata High School and Gardner asked the Somerville Elks to host a softball tournament to raise money for a friend’s child who had been diagnosed with cancer at the age of two.
Gardner passed away the following year, prompting the Elks to name the tournament in his honor. Over the years the name was shortened to “Jack’s Kids.”
The organization continues to grow and now helps over 40 families with their financial needs as they care for their children. Jack’s Kids is a non-profit 501c3 organization under the Charitable Trust within the Somerville Elks Lodge.
“It’s all about the kids and everybody believes in that,” Werner said.
Each year the tournament will raise a minimum of $50,000, according to Werner. This year’s goal is $100,000, he said.
“These kids and their families are an inspiration to us all. We do this for them. We do it for the smiles we see on their faces and the joy they bring to us all,” Werner said. “These kids are the pure meaning of strength. Their struggles and sometimes pain is not the first thing you see. You see innocence and love. They teach us every day what selflessness means and what it truly means to give back. They come and help as they get older and share in the excitement of each other’s milestones.”
New Jersey State PBA President, Pat Colligan will serve as the Honorary Chairperson of this year’s tournament.
“I am honored to be the Honorary Chair of an Organization that is full of true superheroes, these small children fighting big battles. Their hearts and perseverance are an inspiration to us all,” Colligan said.
Several area police departments have entered teams in the tournament, including the Bridgewater PBA, Franklin PBA, Somerset Corrections Department officers and a combined team of Bernards and Bernardsville officers, according to Werner.
“Although this tournament is a wonderful way to share the day with these truly heroic families and kids, none of it would be possible without the outstanding and generous support from our softball teams who come every year, the amazing umpires and other people who volunteer their time that day, the amazing restaurants who donate enough food to feed over 5,000 people, and our sponsors and business owners who donate money and gifts,” said Lisa Werner, treasurer.
She also coordinates the teams and 45 volunteer umpires for the day. “It is a daunting but very rewarding task,” she said. “Without them we could not help Jack’s Kids and their families. It is hard enough watching your child hurt and not be able to help. To worry about finances on top of that is even worse.
“The bills build and we are here to help chip away at that. It’s the least we can do for them,” she added. “Every year we have a larger impact on these families as well as our community. We are blessed and honored to be a part of it.”
The day starts at 8 a.m. on nine fields throughout Somerset County with the ceremonial first pitch. Some of Jack’s Kids will attend the games. The teams all play throughout the morning and into the afternoon while volunteers pick up food, set up the lodge and get ready for the day’s events.
Werner's husband will be on the field at Van Derveer School in Somerville, just down the road from the Elks Lodge to participate in opening ceremonies, which will include bagpipers.
After the games, the teams will return to the lodge for Opening Ceremonies at 2 p.m. Following the opening ceremonies, the winning teams are all presented with their trophies. There will be food and drink, a DJ, 50/50 raffle and kids’activities.
The event at the lodge is open to the public; admission is $10.
Jack’s Kids organizers are also looking for more volunteers and more donations from area businesses.
Additional softball teams are invited to sign up.
More information can be found on the website at www.jackskids.org or on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/jackskids1068 or by calling (908) 722-4634.
There are links to volunteer and donate.