A full week has passed and the dust and crumb rubber of the turfed football field at Cameron Stadium have settled. Ragged out arms are starting to finally gain some feeling again…hopefully. Sun burns have been remedied with aloe, perhaps evening out a farmers tan (looking at you tanktop-clad teams in LWA & SWBL). And turf burns continue to sting arms and legs as loving reminders of another electric NWLA weekend gone by.
No team left Washington County with more fond memories of NWLA 2023 than the newly-crowned champion, Kalamazoo Wiffle League. They hoisted the trophy in an action-packed game at Wild Things Park in walk-off fashion that provided fans in attendance and ESPN+ viewers a good show. Despite the 2nd consecutive year of a rain-soaked championship Sunday, spirits were brightened by coupling the 2023 championship game with an MLW meet & greet that injected a dose of youth into the finale. Partnering with MLW in this way and having access to their fanbase while also having an ESPN+ broadcast that has been years in the making is already paying dividends for NWLA. Multiple young teams and leagues have been in contact with the NWLAT committee through twitter and instagram DMs about participating in future tournaments. 2023 could very well prove to be a pivot point in the growth of the NWLA Tournament as we hope to capitalize on momentum of the youth movement in wiffleball.
The weekend started very uniquely with opening events taking place at the Hollywood Casino at the Meadows with a catered meal & signature drinks at the Barstool Sportsbook and a home run derby on the horse track. Some finished the night either up a few bucks, down a few bucks, or just plain kicked out of the venue for being too good at gambling. Talk to CCW if you want the full story there… Regardless, the venue and evening provided a great spot to catch up with friends from other leagues across the country before becoming friendly foes on Saturday morning during tournament play. Huge Shoutout to Jacob Davey and WILL for coordinating the NWLA Casino Night and for managing the entire weekend as a whole!
Beyond the incredible perks provided by Washington County and the host league, this year’s tournament was marked by parity, more amazing team & individual performances, and new blood to the NWLAT field. This tournament also saw the return of Carl Coffee on the mic to build the hype leading up to the event by previewing each of the 16 teams in the field.
Carl’s NTTPPS podcasts may have led some to believe that the “rookie league wins line” would have been set at 0.5 and none of the four would qualify to Top 12 Sunday. Boy would that have been a cold take… NWA, Baldwin, and South Hills all got wins in pool play. Bay City got 2 wins, a tie, and WON their pool made up of a perennial contender and two teams consisting of players from the 2022 national champs. NWA, however, stole the show and made a top 8 run before getting sent home by the eventual champs in a game where they held an early lead! In total, the four rookie leagues amassed 7 wins. The future is bright should these leagues continue to take part in the NWLAT
These young teams just added to the parity that existed in the 2023 tournament. As stated by Coffee and other respected wiffle minds, it was not out of the question that anywhere from 6-8 teams were legitimate contenders for a title. That showed in the quarterfinal rounds especially as two quads had to go to an “if necessary game” to qualify to the single elim final 4. CCW-MAW and HRL-SWBL played two intense series amongst NWLA heavyweights as RPWL and KWL awaited their final 4 opponents. Once CCW and SWBL prevailed, the single elimination final 4 matchups were decided by 1 run apiece. Grant Miller and Will Smithey both homered in one semifinal, but a runner on for Miller’s bomb provided the difference for Kalamazoo. SWBL mounted a furious comeback that was capped by a walk-off knock to right field by Cam Smith.
No matter your opinions of the field vs turf debate, the tournament format, the location, the time of year- all of it is secondary in importance and essence to what NWLA weekend is. I’ve only attended half of the dozen that have taken place to this point, but it only takes a couple trips to Morenci, Indy, & Pittsburgh to put it together that we may travel for a tournament, but we stay and keep coming back for the wiffleball community…and maybe also the $10 blackjack table at Hollywood Casino.
So we now turn our attention to 2024 and the Twin Cities as HRL takes a turn as the 3rd league to host the annual tournament. Tournament dates and venue are still in progress and will be updated as the NWLAT committee and HRL host committee reconvenes planning in the fall.
NWLA Cups by the numbers
KWL’s win marked the first time that the NWLA Cup returned to the Mitten since WSEM capped off their trifecta of titles in 2017. This is also the 6th straight year a new league reigns supreme over NWLA. In that same timespan, 5 of the 6 champions hail from tournament host states- Michigan: ‘17-’19, Indiana: ‘21-’22, Pennsylvania: ‘20,’23. The 2024 host will continue that trend into its 7th year as HRL already has their cup. Since moving to the host league format in 2020, all 3 hosts have laid claim to a cup- HRL included.