WHEELING - The Edgar Martin Classic Beast of the East baseball tournament will celebrate its silver anniversary when the first pitches are thrown on July 4.
That's 25 years of growth, both in size - from 21 teams and four fields to 162 teams and 34 fields - and in reputation as one of the finest amateur baseball tournaments in the country.
''They went really fast,'' said co-director Bo McConnaughy, who along with B.A. Crawford, have run the Beast since its inception.
They haven't added much to the tournament this year (six teams to the 12-and-under division and games, including a championship on Sunday for the Miracle League of the Upper Ohio Valley to be played at the specially designed 1-470 Field), but they've passed the point where they need to make the Beast a lot more of a destination. That groundwork has been laid for a quarter-century.
''I don't know in this point in time if we can get any bigger because there aren't any fields left,'' McConnaughy said. ''We're running out of fields.''
Still, what exits is tops in the business. There's four days of some of the finest amateur and youth competition you'll find. There's 25 years of history, where teams have formed lifelong friendships and have been coming around so long they've started their own Fourth of July traditions in the Ohio Valley as part of the Beast. Part of the legend through the years is the number of teams that are on the waiting list. It's above 80 this year alone.
For all of those reasons, and many more, it remains a circle on the calendar for amateur baseball clubs far and wide, despite circumstances that would seem to deter growth, such as gas prices and a relative decline in the number of kids playing youth baseball.
''We're surviving because a lot of teams that we have are teams that have been coming back for years,'' McConnaughy said. ''We occasionally get new ones because some guys go to another tournament just to make a change for their team. Those teams that have been coming here have been pretty good teams over the years. I think that's how we survive.''
It continues to be good news, not just for McConnaughy and Crawford and the individuals and organizations that run the fields, but for the Ohio Valley's economy in general.
According to McConnaughy, the last economic impact study showed the Beast generates $8 million for the region.
The schedule of events remains the same.
Patterson Field in Elm Grove will be the site for the annual Paramount Scouting Bureau and National Scouting Report's annual Player Showcase on July 3, with three sessions - a 9 a.m. session, a 1:30 p.m. session and 5 p.m.
There will also be a college recruiting seminar at 8:30 p.m. that night in which, among other things, they'll uncover the myths of college athletic scholarships. Also scheduled are a home run derby and golden arm competition, which will take place on Friday evening at the I-470 Fields.
Games start at 8 a.m. on July 4 with a seven-to-nine game guarantee for the three upper levels (19-U, 16U, 14U) and six-to-eight games promised for the 12U.
As it stands, McConnaughy and Crawford are still looking for volunteers to run fields at St. Jude Park in Glen Dale and at Memorial Park in St. Clairsville.
''It could be any organization looking to make money,'' McConnaughy said, ''any organization, ball team, high school boosters ..''
The tournament provides everything needed - baseballs, diamond dry, lime, scorebooks, schedules, t-shirts, etc.
''They can have a concession stand, they can charge admission, for parking, they can pass the hat, do a 50-50, anything they can do to make money, they can do, and they can keep it,'' McConnaughy said. ''All we ask is you take care of the field, we don't want anything from you.''
Well, that and be available for long stretches on a holiday weekend.
''I'm not going to sugarcoat it, it's a 12-hour day,'' McConnaughy said. ''But the opportunity is there. You get out what you put in.''
Anyone looking to fill these voids can call McConnaughy at 304 280-2981.