History of the Y-Me Softball Tournament
In 1994, Kathy O’Shea was leaving her position with 19th Ward Alderman Ginger Rugai to start her own business, Schools R Us. But before she left, she wanted to do something meaningful to express her gratitude for her experiences. Kathy, a softball player, knowing Alderman Rugai was a breast cancer survivor and past President of the Y-Me National Breast Cancer Organization, proposed an all-women softball tourney with any funds raised forwarded to Y-Me. Her sensitive and compassionate offer became the Y-ME Softball Tournament. Kathy attracted three more softball players, Eileen Corley and Donna Redmond and Judy Stankus, to chair the first tournament of eight teams, along with Fran Hurley from the Alderman’s office. Sixteen teams applied the following year. 21 years later, the tournament averages 60 teams every fourth Saturday in August. Annually over 1000 women participate with friends, families and fans supporting their cause.
This year the core committee organizing this monumental and emotional day-long event is Laura Kelly Casey, Eileen Corley, Rita Walsh, Molly Sullivan, Katie McAlinden, Jolie Becker, Katie Lyons, Meghan Nolan and Peggy Rourke, along with Fran Hurley (now IL State Representative). This tournament has attracted a solid base of supporters who help with sponsor signage, man the kitchen, register the teams, disperse the t-shirts and goody bags, keep score, complete the pairings and brackets and continue to volunteer to make this experience memorable. As the largest all-women softball tourney in the area, the volunteers strive to create a pleasant environment with breakfast and lunch provided, music and dancing after games are final, and a sense of camaraderie – “Women helping Women” and “Together We Can Find a Cure”.
For many, the highlight of the day is the noon “Survivors Game”. While this three inning game is fun, it is really more about courage, strength, hope and faith. The survivors playing may be newly diagnosed, undergoing treatment, or are cancer free, some up to 25 or more years. By playing and making their presence felt, they give back to others the courage and strength of their journey, and the faith and hope we have in a future cure.
Over the past two decades the tournament has raised almost a million dollars. Funding was originally directed to the Illinois Y-Me Chapter. When Y-Me National was dissolved several years ago, the name was so synonymous with the event, our organizers kept the name. For several years after the dissolution of Y-Me, all funds raised went to the American Cancer Society. In the last three years, we have directly funded, without any third party organizations, individual breast cancer researchers. Dr. Richard Jones was the recipient in 2012 and 2013; 2014 we began funding Dr. Kay Macleod’s research at The University of Chicago Medicine. We continue to meet with her to learn about her progress and she will once again be the recipient of this year’s tournament.
In 2014 we said farewell to Kathy O’Shea as she let go of this responsibility she has so generously and compassionately chaired. While she has a number of grandchildren now, Y-ME is also “her baby.” Kathy has spent an incredible amount of time, energy, thought and consideration of others in making the Y-ME tournament a most unique all-women event. Her legacy will live on until a cure is discovered.