Aug. 24, 2007
Softball tournament honors Denfeld graduates
By Rick Weegman
Sometimes good comes out of tragedy. It’s
called the human spirit.
When Diane Tessier and Chris Waltman died in an
automobile accident in June 1973, it cut short the lives of two
vibrant 19-year-olds. But their memories have lived on the past
35 years thanks to a softball tournament in their names.
The Tessier-Waltman women’s slowpitch tournament
takes a final bow this weekend. The 35th and final tournament runs
Saturday and Sunday at the Wheeler Softball Complex in West Duluth.
Family, friends and softball teammates of the
two Duluth Denfeld graduates began the tournament in August 1973,
less than three months after the fateful June 3 day when a car carrying
four women on the A&W Shoredrive team home from a tournament
crashed in rural Superior, killing Tessier and Waltman.
The tournament started with 16 teams but soon
grew to be the “biggest in the Midwest,” according to
Diane’s mother, Connie. The event became a yearly staple during
the last weekend in August. More than 120 teams participated at
one point — requiring the use of virtually every field in
Duluth — before tailing off in recent years. Fifty-seven teams
have signed up for the finale.
Throughout it all, Lawrence and Connie Tessier
have been at the forefront. Beyond just the organizational aspects,
the Piedmont Heights couple has been a godsend to the Duluth softball
community. Through their donation of proceeds from the tournament,
the Tessiers have contributed more than $60,000 to the city to help
create new fields and install scoreboards at the Wheeler Softball
Complex. They also give yearly $500 softball scholarships in the
name of Diane and Chris to a Duluth Denfeld student, and, when asked,
have covered traveling expenses for recreational teams that qualified
for a state or national tournament.
“Nobody made a profit. We don’t make
a dime on this, just cover our expenses,” Lawrence Tessier
said. “What else are we going to do with the money?”
Tessier, 79, had his own athletic career tragically
cut short. After spending five years pitching in the Detroit Tigers
organization, he was sent to the Duluth Dukes. Working as a switchman
at night for Burlington Northern in Duluth, he suffered a crippling
accident that nearly cost him a leg. Ironically, that accident took
place on June 3 as well, just months before Diane’s birth.
Tessier later coached the Rustic Bar softball
team to the 1976 national tournament, though work commitments kept
him from watching Rustic win the championship. He’s remained
a part of the softball community ever since.
“The parents were involved from the very
beginning,” said Paula Bergren, a former pitcher on the A&W
team. “They even have grandkids and great-grandkids [helping]
at the tournament. It’s been a big part of their lives for
the last 35 years.”
But it’s coming to an end this weekend.
The Tessiers say they are getting too old to continue running the
tournament, and that women’s slowpitch is fading in favor
“It’s sad it’s the final year.
But it’s OK that it’s the final year,” Bergren
said. “We put a lot of our time and energy into it. Nobody
would want to take anything back.”
Bergren conceived the idea of a memorial tournament
and has been helping organize it ever since.
“Then she conned me into working on it,”
fellow tournament organizer Pat Koskey said. “In the beginning,
we were thinking we might do it for a couple years — that’s
until it grew to 120-some teams.
“But we’ve made a lot of friends over
the years. It’s been a win-win [situation] for everybody working
on the tournament.”
Koskey has her own reasons for wanting to help.
After driving Diane Tessier and another teammate to that fateful
Superior tournament, four teammates borrowed her newly purchased
Mercury Cougar for the ride home. They never made it.
Some of those ex-teammates will be there this
weekend, not to play but to socialize.
“We tried to get a reunion team for [tonight],
but all the girls said they were getting too old,” Connie
They’ll have to rely on their memories from
now on. Good memories.