CRYSTAL LAKE – Twenty-two years ago, Jack Sebesta knew the hours would be long, the tasks would be unending and the loose ends never would be tied tightly enough.
That’s the formula for success and opportunity, though. The youth baseball players in McHenry County deserved a world-class summer tournament. The kind other countries host. The kind other Illinois teams travel to compete in. The kind that brings a county together to celebrate its children through America’s pastime.
So, Sebesta and a host of community volunteers, youth baseball coaches and enthusiasts developed a framework and corralled teams from across the world to play in the McHenry County Youth Sports Association’s Summer International Baseball Championships.
Twenty-two years later, the tournament has become a local summer staple and one of the country’s premier youth baseball invites. During the past two decades, Sebesta and a cadre of others have sweated, cried, laughed, screamed and cheered as players descended on the county’s baseball fields for one humid, sticky week each summer.
Establishing the tournament, Sebesta said, was simply the right thing to do. On Saturday night, Sebesta, who has run the gambit from volunteer to the tournament’s executive director, said stepping down from his leadership role is the right thing to do, too.
During Opening Ceremonies at Lippold Park, Sebesta wiped away tears and pointed to the players encircling the field.
“You have made this tournament,” Sebesta said. “Thank you.”
The crowd roared and Sebesta’s swan song officially began.
It was just time, he said.
“We all wanted to give our local kids the chance to play in this kind of tournament, against these kinds of teams, and contribute to a place we all call home,” Sebesta said. “I know people think I’m [serious], but I’m a pretty emotional guy, and I saw the good this tournament could do.”
Now he’s seen two generations playing on various teams. Sebesta has seen squads from New Zealand, Brazil, Russia and Mexico call Crystal Lake "home." He’s welcomed Team Japan manager Sadao Nakashiro each summer for 18 years.
The reach has gone beyond the diamonds. During the tournament each year, Sebesta said the local Best Buy and Target stores report their highest nonholiday period sales. Walgreens, he said, stocks up on pain relievers. The local hotels and restaurants are packed with youth baseball fans.
Memories and lessons are countless.
“Baseball is boring,” said Sebesta, “but youth baseball is not. They’re out there because they love it, and they get this incredible experience of playing teams from around the world and having some success. What they learn here will help them deal with various things in life. You hope every kid always has success, but the reality is that not all of them will. For them to have this chance and this opportunity is incredible.”
Assistant Executive Tournament Director Jeff Larkins will assume full responsibilities next summer. He undoubtedly will apply some of what he has learned from Sebesta.
“You have to work hard,” Larkins said. “And that’s what Jack does best."