ST. STEPHEN – On Friday, August 27 and Saturday, August 28, the 20th annual Brian Belyea Memorial Co-Ed Softball Tournament will take place across all five ballfields in St. Stephen. Tyler Belyea, one of the tournament organizers and nephew of the late Brian Belyea, said the tournament has been happening annually since 2001, and they have only missed one year. Last summer, they were not able to host the tournament due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Last year was delayed, obviously, because of COVID. That was supposed to be our 20th celebration. But we pushed that off one year,” said Belyea.

The tournament is a fundraiser for scholarships that are given to two deserving St. Stephen High School students each year, one male and one female, in the amount of $1,500 each. Even though they were unable to play last year, they still met their obligation and donated funds for scholarships. Belyea said the scholarships are centered around sportsmanship. The students are required to write an essay on what sportsmanship means to them. Generally, the scholarships are awarded to students who play sports, but this is not a requirement.

“The tournament was designed around the legacy from my uncle, Brian, and he’s well-known for being that type of person,” said Belyea. “So, when the tournament was being pulled together, it was kind of a no-brainer that we have a fun, sportsmanship-like tournament. It’s not competitive. It’s not an intense tournament. This is really a fun experience for everybody.”

Belyea said they have always had plenty of support from the community, and where they would once have to scramble to find players, they now can count on at least 15 teams playing every year.

“We have 15 or 16 teams, and typically a lot of them are repeats,” said Belyea. “There’s some people who have actually played all 20 years. There’s a lot of people who have played right around that 13, 15 year mark.”

You don’t have to be a player in order to support the tournament. Belyea said they love to see people stop by to watch the games and make donations. In past years, they would be advertising heavily to ensure a large crowd, but with the pandemic still looming, they are playing it safe this year. They do still hope to see people attend the games, all the while following COVID-19 guidelines such as social distancing.

The Brian Belyea Memorial Co-Ed Softball Tournament is taking place at all five fields in St. Stephen, with the main field being the Fan One field at the high school. There will be two regular games on Friday, August 27, followed by a legends game. The other 26 games will be played on Saturday, August 28.

“Friday night, there’s two games, and then a legends game,” said Belyea. “Two of the three are at the high school, and all day Saturday spread across the five fields. As the day goes, we narrow it down and all end-up at Fan One for basically the second half of the day. I think the final game is at 8 p.m. It’s a long day, but it’s worth it.”

Belyea said the event is one people look forward to each year, adding it is a “kind of a staple of their summer”. He said people have told him it’s one of their favourite events, and that makes his family and everyone else involved in organizing the tournament feel terrific.

“It is a lot of fun. I look forward to it every year. It’s well worth the work. It’s my favourite weekend of the year, for sure.”

The idea of the legends game came about in 2018 when the tournament organizers decided to host a game played by people who have had longstanding involvement with the tournament. Belyea said the players are people who have “contributed to the success of the tournament” in a variety of ways, either by playing in past years, selling tickets, donating funds, and people who have run teams.

“It’s a bit of a thank-you to them,” said Belyea. “Maybe their family gets a chance to watch them play a cool, nine-inning game. But, really, it’s just a chance to celebrate and enjoy each other’s company before we kick off the long day the next day. The legends game is pulled together by trying to get everybody involved. There’s obviously way more than 30 people that we’d like to thank, but it’s not possible to have 40 or 50 people in a softball game.”

The teams for the legends game, Team Edie and Team Bill, are named after Belyea’s grandparents. Belyea said they have been “very important in the tournament’s success”, offering their support, manning the barbecue, etc. Due to the pandemic, they will not be barbecuing this year, but they are still doing their part to ensure the success of the tournament. This is a winner takes nothing game, and according to Belyea, it’s loads of fun.

Belyea said his uncle passed away at a young age, but he made a huge imprint on the people around him. Now, 20 years later, people are still celebrating his life and honouring him through this softball tournament.

“When you’re in your early 20s and you pass away, you haven’t necessarily been given as much time to impact the lives around you,” said Belyea. “I sort of feel always good about this tournament because if there are so many people who have been around helping us pull it off, he’s obviously made a pretty good impression on them in that time. I’ve never been told a bad thing about him. That’s one of the more humbling things about this. It’s all worth the work. There’s always a good story or two to come out of it. We certainly wish he was here today, but this is how we honour him and giving back is pretty important for us.”

The first Brian Belyea Memorial Co-Ed Softball Tournament was held just a couple of months after Brian Belyea’s passing, and it has been going strong ever since. Belyea said they are now at the point where they must turn teams away, because there just isn’t enough room. But, this could all change in the near future. Belyea said his family, and mainly his uncle, Greg Belyea, have made a commitment to look into building the Brian Belyea Memorial Ballpark in St. Stephen. The pandemic has delayed this plan, but the family still hopes to be able to build a field.

“Our intentions are to build a field and that’ll be able to make our tournament have more success, as well as give back to the community in a different way,” said Belyea. “Hopefully it’s something that the community will appreciate and enjoy. If that project goes through, it’s not by use of any of the tournament dollars. That money is still going to the scholarships.”

Belyea said he and his family would like to thank everyone who has helped to make the Brian Belyea Memorial Co-Ed Softball Tournament a success for the past 20 years. Several local businesses have donated each year, and many people have helped with such things as advertising, ticket sales, donating prizes, and more. Belyea said often events like this one taper off over the years, but that hasn’t been the case with this tournament.

“Typically, something like this will tail off,” said Belyea. “You don’t hit the 20-year mark very easy. That is not because of the Belyea family. That is because of the Charlotte County community. We want to take a moment and celebrate somebody that matters to us, and we’ve been told by several people that he mattered to them as well. It’s really a heartwarming experience every year, and something we hope the community likes as well. We can’t stress enough how many people have helped us get to this point. The community is really amazing They always rally together to help each other out. They’ve been helping us for 20 years, and we certainly appreciate it.”