Missing the LNP Tournament this year? Here’s a look back at its 74-year history

JED REINERT and BURT WILSON
Staff Writers

The LNP Tournament was to celebrate its 75th season in 2020. But that tourney milestone has been put on hold because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Since crowning the 75th LNP Tournament champs will have to wait, here’s a look back at just a few of the many memorable moments from the tournament’s first 74 seasons.

New Era sports editor George Kirchner started the event, then known as the New Era Tournament, in 1946. Announced in a series of columns on the New Era sports pages, the tournament was intended to provide something to keep young boys out of trouble, while also getting them interested in sports – and providing games for a general audience to watch.

All a team (or aspiring team) needed to do to enter was fill out this form and return it to the newspaper offices. A whopping 65 teams of boys age 12-14 competed in the first tournament, plus an additional four teams of 9-11-year-olds in a shorter series.

Turnout in the stands was great as well – a record crowd of 7,250 people showed up to Stumpf Field on Fruitville Pike to watch the final game. The New Era ran a panoramic photo of the packed stands across the top of the front page on Aug. 21, 1946.

The 1946 photo is faded and grainy, but still shows the New Providence team that captured the very first New Era Tournament championship. The original photo caption read: “Eleven boys will carry the hopes of New Providence and all of Lancaster County into the finals of the New Era Midget Baseball Tournament when they clash with Lancaster Township’s Hamiltons Tuesday night at Stumpf Field. Standing, back row, left to right, the team members are Bruce Barnett, Peach Bottom; Tom Reese, Don Sample, Curt Aspril, Don Herr, all of New Providence; Mel Eckman, Quarryville R3; and Norman Hackman, Quarryville R1. Seated in the front row are Charles Dommel, New Providence; Tom Reinhart, Refton; Bob Wiggins, New Providence, batboy; Bob Aspril and Carl Beck, New Providence. John Stively, of New Providence, was also a member of the squad. Co-managers are Curtis Aspril, Sr., and Daniel Herr.”

Stumpf Field was the site of many tournament games over the years, but Mount Joy’s Kunkle Field has also played a prominent role in the tournament, as has Millersville University’s Cooper Park. And in 2006, Clipper Magazine Stadium became the host of the Midget Championship title games.

In 1952, a controversy erupted when a girl attempted to join in the all-boys tournament. Eleven-year-old Sheila Allison played on the Local 285 Midget-Midget team in Lancaster city – and reportedly was a better batter than several of the team’s boys.

When that team qualified for the New Era Tournament, she was ecstatic – until she learned that she would not be allowed to play in the boys-only tournament.

Leon Duckworth, tournament commissioner, issued a statement on the decision. Here’s an excerpt:

“We don’t want the gals to feel that we’re prejudiced against them, but we’re afraid that if we allow any gal to enter, there’ll be more and the next thing you know the boys will be objecting.

“We feel that since the prime purpose of the tournament was to interest the boys we don’t want to do anything that would detract anything from this interest. Older fellows in baseball may accept the girls, but with the youngsters, we’re afraid that if we were to admit them the boys would think they’re playing a sissy game and that would be bad.”

Sheila Allison (now Sheila Weinstock) was heartbroken, but turned her attention to tennis, at which she also excelled, playing at the professional level and winning competitions all over the world.

(Girls are welcome to play in the LNP Tournament nowadays, and a few have done so over the years.)

Championships in Midget-Midget and Midget divisions were earned since the tournament’s inception. A Junior-Midget division was added in 1961.

For many years, tournament champions were rewarded with a trip to a major league game in New York, Philadelphia or Baltimore. Ebbets Field, home of the Brooklyn Dodgers, was a frequent destination for early tournament victors.

In recent seasons, tournament champions have been feted at Clipper Magazine Stadium, where they were recognized before a Barnstormers game and enjoyed a picnic during the contest.

Of course, a tournament with this much history has its share of legendary games – but arguably none are more storied than one from 2007, related in detail here, in celebration of its 10th anniversary. 

In that game, a suspenseful pitchers duel and a game-winning double play took newcomers St. Leo to victory over favorites Strasburg-Willow Street. Furthermore, St. Leo had a future major leaguer among its ranks in Travis Jankowski, who went on to play for the Padres in 2015, and currently plays for the Cincinnati Reds.

Tens of thousands have participated in the tournament, including more than 100 players who have gone on to play baseball professionally in some capacity.

Of those, 18 went on to the major leagues – 16 as players, one as a coach and one as an umpire. If you’ve attended tournament games over the years, perhaps you watched some of them play. Here’s the full list:

  • Bob Duncan – Umpire for six major league games in 1995.
  • Jeff Rineer – Pitched one inning for the Baltimore Orioles in 1979.
  • Bill Kirk – Pitched three innings for the Kansas City Athletics in 1961.
  • Bob Sprout – Pitched four innings for the Los Angeles Angels in 1961.
  • Nelson Chittum – Pitched for the St. Louis Cardinals and the Boston Red Sox, 1958-1960.
  • Jim Weaver – Pitched for the California Angels, 1967-1968.
  • Jim Todd – Pitched for the Oakland A’s, Chicago Cubs and Seattle Mariners, 1974-1979.
  • Matt Watson – Outfielder, was in and out of the majors from 2003-2010, playing for the New York Mets and the Oakland A’s.
  • John Parrish – Pitcher, spent a decade in and out of the majors from 2000-2010, mostly playing for the Baltimore Orioles.
  • Don Wert – Third baseman for the Detroit Tigers, 1963-1970.
  • Mike Sarbaugh – Third base coach / infield coach for the Cleveland Indians, 2013-present.
  • Jeff Bianchi – Shortstop for the Milwaukee Brewers, 2012-2013.
  • Travis Jankowski – Outfielder for the San Diego Padres and the Cincinnati Reds, 2015-present.
  • Chris Heisey – Outfielder, in and out of the majors from 2010-2017, playing for Cincinnati, Los Angeles and Washington.
  • Cam Gallagher – Catcher for the Kansas City Royals, 2017-present.
  • Gene Garber – Pitcher for the Pirates, Royals, Phillies and Braves, 1969-1988.
  • Tom Herr – Second baseman for the Cardinals, Twins, Phillies, Giants and Mets, 1979-1991.
  • Bruce Sutter – Hall of Fame pitcher for the Cubs, Cardinals and Braves, 1976-1988.