Denfeld News

Aug. 24, 2007
Duluth News Tribune

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 of fastpitch.

“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 Tessier said.

They’ll have to rely on their memories from now on. Good memories.

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