By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
Staff Writer
Los Angeles Dodgers player Devin Smeltzer tweeted about the Coaches vs. Cancer Tournament, one of the most popular baseball tournaments in South Jersey that is moving from Millville to Mainland Regional this year. Smeltzer, a former Bishop Eustace star, knows a thing or two about cancer. At age 9, he was diagnosed with pelvic rhabdomyosarcoma, a form of cancer.
The tournament has strong roots in Millville, as it was launched by former Bolts assistant coach Mike Edwards, who now is an assistant under Billy Kern at Mainland. Those two teams will kick off the event with a Friday night matchup, April 27, at 7 p.m. at Fehrle Field in Somers Point. The tournament continues all weekend, with four games Saturday at Mainland Regional High School and four games Sunday at the Mustangs’ home park.
“We’re excited, getting Mike Edwards over on our staff from Millville, he’s really the catalyst of the whole tournament. He started it in memory of his mom, and we’re fortunate enough to bring the tournament over. The matchups are great and we’re looking forward to raising a ton of money for the American Cancer Society,” Kern said. “We wanted to do something special to keep Millville a part of it because they’ve done such a good job with it the past six years. What we decided to do was have (that game) as the kickoff to the event, so we’ll have it at Somers Point under the lights. We’ll have a 4 p.m. JV and 7 p.m. varsity to get it going, and hopefully it will be a great baseball game. They are playing well, and we’re looking forward to it.”

Devin Sharkey and Mainland take on Millville in the opening game of the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic, which moves from Millville to Mainland this season. The tournament features nine games over three days, and also includes three of the top five teams in the state. (Glory Days Magazine photo/Dave O’Sullivan)


Edwards said he launched the tournament six years ago in memory of his mother, Kathleen, who died from ovarian cancer in 2002, but also in support of Millville coach Roy Hallenbeck, who lost his father to cancer and whose wife is a breast cancer survivor.
“My mom passed away of ovarian cancer in 2002. She was diagnosed when I was a senior in high school; she got to see me graduate from college, got to see her first grandchild being born. She was a baseball freak. She loved baseball. It was important to her, so I thought this was a nice way to honor her and kind of give back to some organizations that helped my family through some difficult times, like the American Cancer Society and a lot of smaller organizations that did that over the years,” Edwards said. “I wear my teal wristband every game. She lived baseball and was a huge fan. Talking about it gives me the chills. I know it means a lot to my family, and it means a lot to the friends who I grew up with. It’s hard. I’ll have to wear sunglasses out there when I throw out the first pitch because it’s very emotional. But it’s awesome to see us use this platform as a way to give back.
“Part of it is to honor (Millville coach Roy) Hallenbeck as well, his father passed away from cancer, his wife was diagnosed with breast cancer and she’s a survivor. It was kind of one of those things that when that happened, it was eye-opening and I realized it affects a lot of people,” he added. “It’s hard to go very far without meeting someone it has affected. It’s something that has meant a lot to Roy, and still does, and that’s why we’re going to kick it off with them and keep them as involved as possible.”
This year’s pairings feature games even a casual South Jersey high school baseball fan can get into. Following the Friday night matchup between host Mainland and Millville in Somers Point, the Saturday slate at Mainland High kicks off with Cedar Creek vs. Atlantic City at 9 a.m., followed by Buena vs. Bridgeton at 11:30, Holy Spirit vs. Bishop Eustace at 2 p.m. and Ocean City vs. Cherokee at 4:30. Sunday features Highland vs. Absegami at 9 a.m., Cherry Hill East vs. Williamstown at 11:30, and the marquee matchups of Gloucester Catholic vs. St. Augustine Prep at 2 p.m. followed by Washington Township vs. Egg Harbor Township at 4:30 p.m.
“Coach Edwards runs the entire pairings and we give out invitations to teams that have played in the past. It’s been so successful that he actually has a little bit of a waiting list of teams that want to get in. We’re always looking to expand it and try to take the event to the next level. Fortunately, we have a lot of repeat teams every year,” Kern said. “It’s a big undertaking, but fortunately we have a lot of support from our own kids. Their parents will be running the snack bar and all day our kids will be volunteering. It’s just one of those causes that affects everybody, and everybody wants to step up and do their part and contribute in anyway. Our field looks great, our maintenance staff has done a great job, and we’re looking forward to showcasing our high school and hopefully having a couple hundred people here.”
“I took a peak the other day, and it looks like we have about nine teams of the 18 competing who are in the top 20 (in South Jersey), and we have some great matchups. It’s become a nice event. If the casual baseball fan looks around and is looking for some games to see, it’s that weekend,” Edwards added. “We have some heavy hitters. We have Washington Township coming down, Williamstown, Cherry Hill East, Eustace, Gloucester Catholic, St. Augustine Prep. Those guys come down here and they all want to compete. They all throw their best guys. It’s a big deal to a lot of people.”
The weekend will also feature a bunch of items up for auction, including a half dozen pairs of cleats and several baseballs signed by former Millville standout and Major League Baseball MVP Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, one of the top players in MLB the past five years.
“We have a great set-up. In the previous six years we had a great set-up (in Millville) and we have a great set-up here, we’re centrally located, and we have the concession stand and a bunch of auction items. Mike Trout always signs a bunch of items for us to auction off to help us raise some money. We have a bunch of items he autographed,” Edwards said. “You can come any time (Saturday or Sunday) and catch a great ballgame, and come out and contribute as a community. The parents here have been phenomenal in terms of volunteering their time, buying food for concessions and things like that. The community here at Mainland has really embraced it, which is really neat.”
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: sully@acglorydays.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays