Note: Memories of the Newton Mexican-American Fourth of July Men’s Fast-Pitch Softball Tournament from Gil Solis Jr., told to Gil Solis Sr.

The Newton Mexican-American Fourth of July Men’s Fast-Pitch Softball Tournament went from a local event to a regional event in 1978.

Most years the tournament was made up of teams from Newton, Wichita, Hutchinson, Emporia, Topeka and Kansas City being the longest drive. A trip to Ft. Smith, Ark., by Newton Holy Name helped take the tourney in a new direction. A team from Oklahoma City caught the eye of Tony Sandate the Holy Name manager. Sandate told them of a Mexican tournament in Newton and welcomed them to participate.

Oklahoma City Casa Del Dulce won the tournament in 1978 lead by pitcher Steve Scott. Scott overpowered the competition with fastballs and rise balls. OKC defeated Topeka Livingston 13-3 in the championship game. Scott was the tourneys Most Valuable Pitcher.

The 1979 tournament saw the return of a legend, Pete “Blanco” Gomez. Nearing the end of his career, Gomez wanted to play one last time in Newton with his sons. Playing with his sons, Scott, Mark, Steven and Chris, reenergized Gomez dominating the competition. Gomez was the Tournament MVP and all his sons made the All-Tourney team.

A new decade brought new teams and new champions. The 1980 champion, Omaha Mestizos were led by a duo of brothers, Chris and Mike Ayala. both brothers were hard throwing imposing figures on the mound.

The 1981 finals matched cross town rivals. Norbert Garcia’s Kansas City Azteca’s defeated a Kansas City Amigos team that had to win seven games in row on Sunday alone to make the championship game. Paulie Hernandez of the Amigos pitched all eight games on that Sunday for his team. Mike Garcia, the Azteca’s first basemen was the tournament’s Most Valuable Player.

The 1982 tournament was elevated to a level never seen before. The Houston Nine flew to Kansas with a record of 64-19 losses to participate in the 1982 tournament. “The Nine” had been competing in tournaments all over the United States at the highest level. The weeks leading up to their

arriving in Newton, the Nine had been in Tucson, Ariz., and Long Beach, Calif., playing in tournaments. They had participated in the ISC World and ASA “Major” championships the previous year. The Nine was managed by Houston businessman Ignacio “Nacho” Hernandez and was led by pitcher Manuel Navarro, also known as “The Kid”. Houston defeated a John Torrez led Topeka Livingston team 3-2 in a tightly contested championship game.

The 1983 edition saw a team from the Rocky Mountains take the title. Angelus Chapel of Pueblo, Colo., was paced by power pitchers Gerald Gomez and Victor Soto. The pair allowed only 11 runs in five games and defeated the Kansas City Amigos 3-2 in the finals.

During the mid-80’s years of 1984, 85 and 86 the tournament was dominated by a single team. The Kansas City Amigos won the tournament three consecutive years without a single defeat. The Amigos were led by fan favorite Paulie Hernandez on the mound and a lineup of power hitters, Richard Cecena, Boosty Bustamante and Eddie Hernandez, the modern day “Murders Row”. The Amigos defeated Pueblo in the 1984 championship game 3-2.

In 1985, Paulie Hernandez dominated the field. Hernandez won both the tourneys Most Valuable Pitcher and Most Valuable Player awards, defeating Topeka Cousins 6-1 in the finals. Hernandez allowing a total of four runs the entire tournament.

Rain and a late night was the story of the 1987 tournament. The city of Newton, the tournament committee and fans rallied together making sure the tournament was not canceled. Torrential rain rolled through Newton early that Saturday morning. With the help of many rakes and lots of sand the tournament resumed play nine and a half hour behind schedule. More rain on Sunday morning caused more delays. The championship games started at 11:43 pm Sunday night. New participant the Austin Jokers Managed by Sal Castillo defeated a Newton Metros team led by pitcher Gerald Gomez. The Newton team was managed by Gil Solis Sr. and made up of former Newton Holy Name players Paul Vega, Mario Garcia, Tony Sandate, Bill Roman Sr., Steve Reyes Sr. with a new generation of Newton players, consisting of Gil Solis Jr., Paul Solis, Roman Vega, Billy Roman Jr., Steve Reyes, Jr., Jose Ramos, Bryce Buller and Tim Chadd. Jokers pitcher James Alverez got a ground ball in the bottom of seventh inning with a runner in scoring potion to seal the victor. The game ending at 1:17 a.m. Monday morning with a final score of 3-2.

Oklahoma City D&D won back to back titles in 1988 and 1989 defeating the same Wichita Stroh’s team both times. The tournaments seen the return of Steve Scott 10 years after leading the Oklahoma City Casa Del Dulce team to a Championship in 1978 with a dominating performance, Scott did the same in consecutive years.

After losing to the Stroh’s team on Sunday morning of the 1988 tournament, Scott pitched OKC to three consecutive victories and defected Stroh’s in two championship games. Scott was the tournament’s Most Valuable Pitcher and Most Valuable Player, the second time that feat had been accomplished in tournament history. The Austin Jokers took third, Baytown, Texas, Hawks placed fourth, the Newton Metros and Kansas City Amigo’s tied for fifth.

The 1989 championship game was another late-night affair. Stroh’s defeated the undefeated OKC team forcing a second championship game for a second-straight year. After taking the loss in the first championship game, Scott rebounded in the second game ending at 5 a.m. Monday morning. Scott, allowing a run and two hits in seven innings of work to take the title. Fog covered OLG Park during the second game making it nearly impossible to see the outfielders. Scott won a second consecutive Most Valuable Pitcher award to elevate him to legendary status at the Newton tournament.

A new decade brought a new champion and new tournament name. Omaha Los Santos, led by yet another power pitcher, won the 1990 tournament in record heat with temperatures reaching 107 degrees on Sunday. Omaha was led by pitcher Antonio DeLeon in winning the first ever National Softball Associations World Hispanic Tournament. As in the previous two years the Wichita Azteca, formally Stroh’s, was forced to take second place for a third consecutive year. The Kansas City Amigos placed third, Houston Nine fourth, Topeka Drive-Train and Newton Metros tied for fifth.

1991 seen the return of a previous champion. The Houston Nine defeated the Newton Metros 10-5 in the Championship game. Phil’s Tires from Tucson took third, while the Omaha Santos took fourth.

The 1992 through 1994 tournaments witnessed a changing of the guard. The Newton Metros were no longer the up and comers but the new dominate team in the state of Kansas. With the addition of veterans Vince Ramos to the mound and catcher Luis Lopez to the core group of Metros player from the 1987 runner-up team, made them complete. The Metros pulled off a second undefeated three-peat in tournament history. The 1992 finals showcased an all-Newton championship game.

The Metros defeated Newton Los Banditos managed by Manual Jaso 5-4 in a nine-inning affair. Frank Del Torro had the winning RBI in the bottom of the ninth inning. In the 1993 and 1994 finals, the Metros defeated two different teams from Omaha. Defeating Omaha Santos 9-2 in 1993. Vince Ramos was the Most Valuable Pitcher that year. Omaha Midwest Maintenance was the runner-up in 1994 losing 14-6 in the finale.

During the 1994 tournament nobody knew at the time, that would be the last time the Newton Fourth of July tournament would ever be held at Our Lady Guadalupe Park. The park was the “Yankee stadium” of fast-pitch softball. Young boys dreamed of the day they could play at OLG Park during the fourth. Visiting teams always looked forward making the trip to Newton anticipating playing at OLG Park in front of a large and loud crowd sometimes numbering in the thousands.

The 1995 tourney was the first in decades that the championship game had not been played at OLG Park. A Topeka Drive-Train team overcame a second-round loss and came through the loser’s bracket defeating the Kansas City Angels twice in the Championship games. Drive-Train played eight consecutive games on Sunday. Ironman John Torrez logged many of those innings with help from his nephew Billy Roman Jr. Drive-Train lost twice on Saturday, but took advantage of the triple elimination format to advance. Torrez was the Most Valuable Pitcher.

During the 21st century, one team has taken home the hardware like no other. The Kansas City Indio’s a team from Kansas City, Kan., is nearly made up entirely of the same Garcia family. The team was started many years ago and was passed down from father to son’s and now the third generation of Garcia’s are the core figures of the team.

As many teams have faded, the Indio’s still complete a competitive summer schedule. The Indio’s have taken the last six tournament titles in a row and have won a total of nine Fourth of July tournament titles in their history. The Indio’s also participant in the NAFA Championship every year.

A Kansas City Reds team took power hitting to a new level during the 2006 tournament. The Reds hit them out by the bunches to take the 2006 championships with a victory over the Kansas City Indio’s. Joel Ginther homered twice in the championship game to lead the Red’s to a come from behind victory. Mike Gomez paced the Red’s with a total of five homers throughout the tourney. Kansas City teams swiped the top three spots with the Kansas City Eagles taking third place.

Long time participant Kansas City Angels breaks through and takes a pair of titles in 2008 and 2009. Not only did the Angels win the 2009 Newton championship, the Angels won the 2009 North American Fastpitch Association “A” World Series in Mankato, Minn. The only men’s Mexican-American fastpitch team to ever win a national championship.

The tournament in Newton has been a trend setter and standard bearing over the years. Coming to Newton to visit family was one thing, but coming to Newton to participate as a player and a fan in the Fourth of July tournament was a completely different story. Many looks forward coming to the “Fourth”. Didn’t need to mention “Newton” or “softball tournament”, you always knew what they meant when someone said the “Forth”. If you were from Newton and had migrated elsewhere you may come home for Christmas, but you always came home for the Forth. It is always the best time to see “everyone.”

Newton was one of the first tournaments to have tournament t-shirts for sale dating back to 1978.

Newton has always presented outstanding trophies and awards to the teams finishing in the top four and to those individuals taking the MVP honors and making the All-Tournament team. The championship trophy usually stood 6 feet tall and All-tourney players received jackets or plaques. Long-time tournament supporter Mike Lewallen helped make and design many of the t-shirts and awards over the years.

The opening ceremonies was also a first at the 1978 tourney. Complete with a color guard, performance by a dance troupe, singing of the national anthem followed by a pray, led by the priest of Our Lady of Guadalupe Church. A first pitch was usually throw out by someone significant to the tournament or even a city official.

Another highlight of the opening ceremonies has been the Old Timers game. Once a year many former players lace them up and dig out the old glove once again, putting on a fun and exciting show. A Saturday night tournament dance is another tradition that dates to the first tournament in 1946.

It takes many volunteers to make the tournament a success. The tournament director, a strictly voluntary position spending many hours organizing the tournament. The Newton tournament has been fortunate enough over the years to have several men step up to direct the tournaments success. Gil Solis Sr., Tony Sandate, Rick Arellano and Manuel Jaso have each taken a stint at tournament directors over the last 40 years.

Individuals such as Angel Monares and Rusty Hernandez used their resources to make the parks look spectacular. The late Angel Monares, Superintendent of the Parks Department, had all parks and fields looking their best by having the grass cut and parks manicured. Rusty Hernandez Superintendent of the Sanitation Department had all trash picked up and cans emptied before play resumed the next day.

Pride in the playing surface has always been a priority at the Newton tournament. One unique individual and his ground crew took field maintenance to the extreme, rivaling those of major league ground crews. The late Hank “The Fly” Sauceda and crew, a show in its self was a well-oiled machine. Not only was Hank and crew up early Saturday and Sunday mornings grooming three field before the crack of dawn. They did it repeatedly after every two or three games enhancing the playing experience and making the tournament that much enjoyable for the players. Raymond “Hud” Gomez, Jimmy Roberts, Don and Larry Thaw, Richard Martinez and Tim Regier were some of the crew members that helped make the tournament special.

Other interesting side notes and facts about the tournament. In 1978, two art students — Ray Olais and Patrice Estrada — painted a mural depicting the history of Mexican life in Newton. That mural was hung at OLG Park for all to see during that 1978 tournament and the next several. The mural was part of Bethel Colleges Kaufman Museum’s 50th Anniversary celebration and is now on permanent display at Sunset Elementary school in Newton. Ray and Patrice married in 1980 and were longtime Art instructors at Newton High School.

The last of its kind. The tournament was created in 1946 so that teams made up of Mexican fast-pitch softball players from Newton and surrounding areas could have a place and teams to play since they were not allowed in other tournaments. Throughout the 50s, 60s 70s and 80s teams could nearly play a whole summer participating in Mexican tournaments only.

During the 1990s, tournaments started to fold or opened, allowing non-Mexican teams to participate. The Latin Softball Tournament in Houston opened a few years ago, leaving Newton as sole Mexican-American Fast-Pitch Tournament in the country.