Coordinated annual event for 26 years
After 26 years coordinating the Winthrop Snowshoe Softball Tournament, Mike Clayton is tossing the duties to a new team and stepping away.
Clayton assumed the tournament when he purchased Three Fingered Jack’s Saloon and Restaurant from previous owner Corky Scharf in 1997. Clayton credited Scharf with starting the tournament, but didn’t know when it all got initiated.
“It’s been really good for the town over the years,” said Clayton. “We’ve drawn eight teams every year and even have to turn away several teams each year as we seem to usually get a few more applications than we have space for.”
Clayton said they deliberately have kept the tournament limited to eight teams. “Scheduling is difficult enough to get through a double elimination bracket with eight teams, so we haven’t been interested in growing it,” he said.
Each team brings an average of 15 to 20 people (families, kids, friends) from the Puget Sound area. “We’ve had a pretty consistent group coming from the Puyallup, Tacoma, Seattle and Everett areas,” Clayton said, “and we’ve been pretty lucky with the weather over the years. We’ve had a couple of years where it was cloudy and trying to rain or snow, and one year where it was pretty cold, but most of the time the weather has been outstanding.”
His favorite memory is of a team that appeared at the tournament thematically dressed in costume, a different look every year. “They were great,” he said. “One year they came all dressed in Hawaiian shirts and shorts. Once they showed up as the characters from the Austin Powers movies. Mostly, everybody has a lot of fun.”
Fun, but also work
Which is, according to Clayton, how the tournament started. “Corky started it as a local thing with mostly local teams playing, but it gained in popularity and people from the other side [of the mountains] began to show up,” he said.
It’s a lot more work than just filling in a bracket, though. Registrations begin in December before Christmas, trophies are ordered, teams are set and the equipment gets checked. Clayton says the Chamber of Commerce has about 30 sets of snowshoes for players to use, although some come prepared with their own equipment. “We have a couple of sets every year that need repair or just need to be replaced, and a lot of what we have is getting old. But we always seem to have enough to get us through,” he said.
“We have one guy who likes to umpire,” Clayton said. “We pay him $20 per game and he gets a hotel room comped, so that works well. There have been some years when I umped every game. It’s nice to have someone else who can do that job.”
Seth Miles, owner of Three Fingered Jack’s, is taking over coordination of the tourney and will continue primary sponsorship of the event in 2024. Jacob Young and the Old Schoolhouse Brewery in Winthrop will partner with TFJ’s in coordination and sponsorship.
Young is confident about the future of the Presidents’ Day Weekend event “I am excited to co-manage this event along with Seth to continue bringing an energetic crew of people to the valley to recreate,” he said. “Mike has done an incredible job of fostering a tight-knit group of snowshoe softball enthusiasts, and I look forward to helping continue this into the future.”
“Teams come back year after year, booking groups of hotel rooms on a weekend when there are no hockey tournaments. It offers a great diversion on Presidents’ Day weekend along with the Doggie Dash put on by Methow Trails,” said Winthrop Chamber of Commerce Marketing Director Anne Young.
Clayton and wife, Lisa, have lived in the Winthrop area since buying Three Fingered Jack’s from the Scharf family in 1997. They still live here, but their twin daughters Taylor and Alex have long since departed for life after high school (Liberty Bell) and college (Bucknell and Pepperdine, respectively). Alex lives and works in Washington, D.C., and Taylor in California.
They sold Three Fingered Jack’s to Miles a while back, but have stayed connected, Mike works part time at Bear Creek Golf Course during the warmer months.
“Snowshoe Softball started out as a fun thing years ago,” said Clayton. “Now, the winning team gets a nice trophy, but mostly it’s still just a fun weekend in Winthrop. I hope it keeps going and stays that way.”