Tony Gowell’s voice cracked Saturday as he welcomed early risers to the Randall Road Complex softball fields in Lewiston.

At 7:15 a.m. on a frigid November morning, Gowell stood in front of a small stand of bleachers. Two small speakers carried his voice across the frosted, early-morning calm, the sounds echoing off the surrounding trees and growing rows of cars.

Soon enough, Gowell’s voice would be replaced by the thwack of wooden bats, the smack of leather, and the cheers – and jeers – of softball teams trying to win a title.

But first, a pause.

Gowell introduced the organizers and volunteers who helped create and organize the Lewiston Strong Memorial Benefit Softball Tournament – a 25-team, multivenue event to raise money for the victims of the Oct. 25 mass shootings that devastated the region.

Gowell, Maine’s USA Softball rep and head of the local umpires’ organization, stopped short as he remembered his friend – a friend to most people at the fields on this day – Ron Morin, a former player and active umpire in the local softball scene who was among the 18 victims.


“He would have been the first one here today,” Gowell said, fighting off tears. “He would have been the first one to volunteer for this, and we miss him.”

At 7:31 a.m., a minute late, technically, but miraculously on time given the magnitude of the logistics at play, the event’s first pitch left the circle at Randall Field 2, and off they went: Players, some who’d “retired” from the sport many years ago, managers and umpires – celebrities, too – swung for the fences, all in the name of faith and goodwill, helping a community heal in the wake of an unimaginable tragedy.

“Pandemonium is the best way to describe this,” said Derek Haskell, the initial catalyst for the softball tournament, “but in the best way. It’s great seeing everybody out here supporting this.”


When Haskell and other organizers say “everybody,” they’re not speaking entirely in hyperbole. As expected, the tournament had a handful of special guests, including many family members of those affected by the shootings and the most recently anointed People Magazine Sexiest Man Alive, Lewiston-born actor Patrick Dempsey.

Known for his many movie and television roles, Dempsey played a more important role Saturday: helping a grieving community take steps toward healing.


Arriving just before the first pitch of his first game of the day – yes, Dempsey suited up and even arrived with his own glove – the well-known actor joined a team representing first responders for their first two games of the morning.

He hit, played various positions in the field, and chatted with anyone around him willing to lend an ear.

He also signed items and posed for hundreds of photos, never letting the smile with which he arrived with leave his face.

Also among the tournament players was former Boston Red Sox pitcher Bill “Spaceman” Lee. Known as much for his views on topics beyond baseball as he was for his exploits on the diamond, Lee is a native New Englander who’s also well known for his philanthropy over the years.

Lee played in at least one game early Saturday, sidling up to the plate in boots, a cowboy hat and a Savannah Bananas jersey, collecting a hit in his second at-bat.

“Their support means so much to all of us,” said Zack Timmermeyer, one of the event organizers. “It just helps raise the profile of the event so much, and anything that helps us help those who need it is so appreciated.”



They knew they had to do … something.

Longtime friends were dead. So many more were hurting. And they weren’t alone.

Little did they know just how “unalone” they were.

Haskell and Chase Cote initially hatched a plan for a benefit softball tournament – adult league softball is one of many things that united many of the victims and their friends.

They shared information with friends, one of whom is Timmermeyer, a fellow Lewiston High School graduate, who posted his intention to help raise funds on social media.


Initially, according to organizers, the tournament was going to be a smallish affair, to benefit the families and friends to which they were closest.

“We wanted to help the families of Ron Morin and Joey Walker,” Timmermeyer said. “I popped in once they asked me if I could put in a team, and asked if they wanted me to put up a table at the fields, maybe use my network to see if we could get some businesses to put up some gift cards or something.”

But even they – proud Lewiston natives, active members of the community – underestimated the outpouring of support that eventually snowballed – avalanched, really – into Saturday’s celebration of everything that has helped the stricken region cope.

“About two hours after I made my social media post, my mom calls me and says, ‘You’re gonna need a bigger boat. Have you not seen your post?’ I said no, I hadn’t.”

Timmermeyer’s request for help had been shared nearly 200 times in the first hour, and caught the attention of a local television reporter, who reached out to interview him.

“We didn’t even have all the details yet,” Timmermeyer admitted. “But once we did that, everything just took off.”


“Something” evolved into “something huge,” Timmermeyer said.

Borne of a softball benefit, Saturday’s event was a multi-layered festival, one that celebrated friendship, camaraderie and togetherness; one that highlighted how loved the victims and survivors and their families are; one that showcased what a small city is capable of when it works toward a unified goal of kindness and charity.

After the television interview, Timmermeyer said, “that’s when the discussion went from, ‘We can raise money for Joey and Ron,’ to ‘This has the potential to raise money for all 18 families, and if we do really well, all 18 families and the victims.’”

They did really well.

Businesses, athletes and sports franchises from around the region – and around the country – asked how they could get involved. Merchandise flowed into event organizers, who, inspired by the popular Feztival of Trees event put on by the Kora Shriners each holiday season – created a silent auction and raffle including hundreds of donated items.

“If we didn’t know someone, we knew someone who knew someone,” Timmermeyer said. “Some of the raffle items, it was a chain of like, six people. It was just incredible.


“I feel like all the news outlets are covering the tournament itself, and yes, there’s probably going to be $15,000 or $20,000,” he added, “but the raffles could potentially generate a couple hundred thousand dollars.”

The official auction and raffle website went live Friday night, and is open through 3 p.m. Sunday.

A dozen people formed a board of directors for the tournament, which solicited entries, collected money, created a website, and organized the fundraising efforts.

Municipalities donated field usage and maintenance. The umpires association – to which Morin belonged – donated its time.

And it all happened in fewer than 20 days.

“I think I put a little too much on my plate, honestly. I could have had a subcommittee for myself for the fundraising,” Timmermeyer admitted. “I started a new job recently, too … between that and the fundraising and the spreadsheets until 1, 2 in the morning, I am getting maybe three hours of sleep.


“But that’s nothing compared to what the victims and their families, the first responders are going through, and that’s why we’ve all done this, we’ve kept going as this thing has grown.”


Saturday’s scene unfolded as the sun first poked above the horizon. Organizers were at both sites – the Randall Road Complex in Lewiston and Pettingill Park in Auburn – putting last-minute finishing touches on the hours of preparation: setting out merchandise, setting up registration tables, placing sponsor honorifics and testing sound equipment.

In all, more than 100 volunteers helped make the tournament and surrounding events work, from coordinating parking to staffing raffle tables to updating scoreboards.

Beyond those who actively participated in either running the tournament or playing in it, were the throngs of people with no stake in the action milling about the grounds at both locations. They were on site to help, to support – to heal.

They bought baubles, cheered for teams – came together as a community for a cause.


And they did so despite less-than-perfect conditions. Sure, the sunshine was as bright as it’s been all season. But frost covered the ground at first light. Wisps of breath were visible for most of the morning. The assembled food trucks at both of the tournament’s locations churned out hot beverages, and spectators gulped them down before they cooled off.

None of that mattered. Not on this day. Not to this hardy group.

“It just speaks to the community here, rallying to support everybody,” Haskell said. “The amount of people, and the amount of support we’ve had has just been incredible.”


The in-game atmosphere was friendly, at times competitive. The games themselves were altered from traditional rules to fit the timeframe – each batter got a single pitch; no fouls allowed; playing time capped at 45 minutes. On-field participation was capped at 25 teams. And they still needed all of the 14 hours they allotted themselves – and then some.

Even the day’s extra-special guests played along – literally. Dempsey joined a team of first responders in the morning bracket at Randall Road, and stayed through the end of the day and the closing ceremonies at Pettengill Park.


Lee was at the Randall Road complex bright and early, too.

“It’s so important to be here,” Lee said in an interview. “Sports are so important. They help us heal.”

Lee waxed poetic about Vermont, politics and baseball to anyone willing to listen as he waited his turn to bat. His team for that game won its opener, the first of 48 games Saturday.

Some of the teams playing featured longtime teammates. Others were a mishmash of local players, banding together to support the cause. Still others were teams from “away,” looking to give back to a neighboring community in any way they could.

“I wasn’t even going to play this weekend, I was just going to come out and watch and support everyone,” Bates College softball coach and former St. Dom’s and University of Southern Maine standout Kat McKay said. “Then Zack (Timmermeyer) said they needed someone to play on their team. I literally dusted off my glove this morning.”

The teams Saturday collectively battled through 48 games over more than 12 hours, some playing as many as a half dozen games in a quest for the title. Ultimately, there was a singular winner on the field.

Off the field, though, many more winners emerged. Out of the tragedy that struck this small city, positivity reigned, at least for one day, over a pair of softball venues in a community longing to heal.

Will there be an encore?

“We hope to be bigger next year,” Haskell said, a grin surfacing from beneath his beard. “More to come on that later.”

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