The 44th World WiffleBall ® Championship is currently scheduled for July 15-16, 2023, at Memorial Park in Midlothian, Illinois. Yes, the game with rules similar to those of baseball has gone, well, big league. Co-Commissioner Mike Baniak sat down with SDM to discuss its growth and its future.
Sports Destination Management: The WiffleBall ® was invented in 1953, according to your website. How long has the championship been around?
Mike Baniak: This will be our 44th tournament. We started in 1980 and we host it every two years. It is an open tournament; we have pool play on Saturday and a single elimination tournament on Sunday.
SDM: How many teams does it draw?
Baniak: Typically, we bring in somewhere between 45 and 65 teams. We run the tournament at several locations.
SDM: What kind of facilities do you look for when you are seeking a host?
Baniak: Softball diamonds are the best locations; they tend to have a hug in the middle with the fields, usually around four to six fields, radiating out from there. Wiffle Ball® fields are smaller than your average baseball field.
SDM: So, baseball fields are out?
Baniak: The only real impediment to hosting this sport in a baseball complex is the warning track. Our players often have bare feet.
SDM: You have noted how many teams you have in the tournament, but how many players does it take to play Wiffleball®?
Baniak: There are four to five players on a team; usually, between five and twelve players show up to make a weekend out of it.
SDM: Do teams come in nationwide, or mainly regional?
Baniak: We draw teams from other areas of the country; for this event, a lot of them will come from the Midwest.
SDM: Is this a youth sport?
Baniak: We do have some preteens and teens but it’s largely adult. Most players are in their twenties; I would say the age range is between 11 and 68.
SDM: Is it co-ed?
Baniak: I’d love to tell you it’s an even mix, but it’s an overwhelmingly male!
SDM: What other locations have you used?
Baniak: The tournament has always been in the Midwest; it’s the most convenient for everyone. We have also been to Mishewaka, Indiana, and to Skokie, Illinois.
SDM: Has the sport grown?
Baniak: It really has grown quite a bit, although it’s not pickleball, which is exploding all over the place. It is a backyard game but there are leagues and on YouTube, there are fun videos, leagues and other information.
SDM: How serious is this as a sport?
Baniak: A lot of people do take it very seriously. Not us – our slogan is “Where the kids play with the kids at heart.” We have the most innocent dad jokes as well as trash talk.
SDM: What other traditions do you have?
Baniak: We do not have organized activities; that’s a tradition. We listen to Marvin Gaye’s version of the National Anthem. We rely very strongly on good sportsmanship and finally, all our proceeds go to the Humane Society.