It’s been a Fourth of July weekend tradition since 1946: the Newton Mexican-American Fastpitch Softball Tournament. Every year, minus a couple years for rain-outs, teams from Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Colorado and Texas descend upon Newton’s Athletic Park for softball, culture and familia.
The tournament began amid segregation, when Mexican-Americans weren’t allowed to play softball with white teams. Organizers try to keep the tournament as close to its roots as possible, by only allowing two team members that don’t have Mexican-American heritage.
“For the teams around here, this is their World Series. They love to come here and play ball,” Richard Martinez, president of the Newton Mexican American Athletic Club said.
Martinez remembers growing up with the tournament, starting out shagging foul balls, eventually working his way up to bat boy and later, getting to play.
This year brought the 70th tournament and featured 16 teams.
“Pride is what it’s all about. I tell people, it’s like a carnival without the carnival because people are here to have fun. There’s families that have family reunions around this tournament,” tournament director Manuel Jaso said.
Authentic food is also a staple of the tournament.
Angel Jaso is the oldest living member of the first team at 95 years old.
“I couldn’t quit…I’d be out there chopping and the boys would say come on let’s go play ball. I’d leave the axe right there and I went and played ball,” Jaso said.
Now, he watches from the sidelines as younger members grow the tournament.
“I’d like to be out there with them but I know I can’t. I haven’t given it up, but if you can’t do it, you might get hurt,” Jaso said.
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