ALS softball file photo

Bob Stallings of Belvidere watches the ball soar during a past Jim “Catfish” Hunter ALS Softball Tournament in Winfall. This year’s event is being billed the “Final Farewell.”

The 22-year history of the Jim “Catfish” Hunter ALS Softball Tournament might not be coming to a close but it has come to a pronounced fork in the road.

The event this year is being billed the “Final Farewell.” But Guy Webb, who is heading up the tournament this year following the death last year of co-founder Joan Hunter, said his hope is that the tournament may continue in some fashion, though with new leadership and perhaps slightly different branding.

This is the 21st time the tournament has been held.

The event includes a barbecue and chicken plate sale on Friday, a gun raffle on Saturday, and the softball tournament during the same weekend.

Webb recalled that when Catfish Hunter contracted ALS in 1998 he started a foundation to help ALS patients.

Hunter died on Sept. 9, 1999, and the first Jim “Catfish” Hunter ALS Tournament was held just a few weeks later.

Webb said that at the time he was parks and recreation director in Perquimans County and Joan Hunter, a niece of Catfish Hunter, was doing the same kind of work in neighboring Gates County. He said the two of them had started talking earlier that year about organizing a softball tournament to raise funds for the foundation and the event was eagerly received by area softball teams.

Although Catfish Hunter died before the foundation’s first softball tournament was held, Webb noted that he knew about the planning for the event and endorsed the idea.

The first tournament raised about $800.

Webb said the teams that participated the first year wanted to have the tournament again, and other teams also began to express interest.

At its peak the tournament brought in 24 teams from as far away as Michigan and raised nearly $30,000 in a single year.

When foundation volunteers wanted to add a walk-a-thon fundraiser they decided to hold it the same weekend as the softball tournament.

The walk is not being held this year, apparently because of COVID-19 concerns.

Webb said he doesn’t think the event will end entirely. He said it might be re-branded in some way and be taken over by new leadership.

Webb said he will continue to help however he can. He noted that he remains active in ALS-related fundraising in the Charlotte area.

The tournament started 22 years ago but this is the 21st time it had been held, since last year’s event was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Webb said no one has been identified who is prepared to do all that Joan Hunter did to make the tournament a reality, and he is limited in what he is able to do now because he is living in Charlotte.

“She was the backbone of it,” Webb said of Joan Hunter.

The remaining corps of volunteers recognized how difficult it would be to put on the tournament without Joan Hunter’s involvement but thought it was important to hold the event one more time as a tribute to her, Webb said.

Catfish Hunter played for the Kansas City Athletics from 1965-1967, the Oakland Athletics from 1968-1974 and the New York Yankees from 1975-1979. He pitched a perfect game for Oakland on May 8, 1968.

The Hall of Fame pitcher was a Perquimans County native and lived out the remainder of his life on a farm in the county after his retirement from baseball.

Hunter was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1987.