Spring training has begun, which means, for those of us in the Midwest, it’s almost time to bring the plastic bat and ball out of hibernation.
Teams from four states have already registered for the 40th World Wiffle® Ball Championship on July 20-21 in Midlothian, Illinois. As a reminder, get a new team to sign up and take advantage of the $30 referral refund that we are offering until April 15. Not only will you receive t-shirts with your entry, but proceeds from the tournament will help animals in need at South Suburban Humane Society.
And, of course, you’ll get to compete for a World Championship.
We are still working on some of the 40th Anniversary events, and will provide updates in the coming months. This month, we take a look at how the Cult West Warriors have become the most dominant wiffleball team in the world.
At 24-0 since returning to the WWBC in 2016, the Cult West Warriors have established themselves as the gold standard of wiffleball. The 3-time World Champs also have ties to the early days of the WWBC, and a long history of their own in the World’s oldest Wiffle® tournament.
As an offshoot of 1987 runner-up, The Westsiders, the beginnings of Cult West as we know it today began in the 1995 World Wiffle® Ball Championship. Juan (Johnny) Balderas had played in the tournament for years, and in 1995, brought a 13-year-old Scott Soos to Ward Baker Park in Mishawaka. Scott and Balderas’ nephew, Junior, were close friends, and similarly to some of the great teams in WWBC history, played Little League together.
“(Johnny) was the architect of our team and I give him all the credit for getting me started.” Scott said. Impressively, that team reached the Sweet 16 on Sunday before being outmatched by a group of guys who certainly enjoyed an adult beverage or two: ‘Bud Light.’
Variations of Balderas’ teams continued to play in the tournament, but Scott returned to the WWBC in 2000 alongside Balderas on ‘Cult West II.’ Over the next few years, two current Warriors, Danny Hernandez (Junior’s younger brother) and Matt Soos made appearances as well. This version of Cult West began to hit their stride, making the Final Four in 2003, and losing to the eventual champion, Blue Ribbon Builders.
In 2005, Cult West had an opening on the roster, and added current star pitcher, Jay Ryans. Junior and Scott knew Ryans from competing against him in different sports in middle/high school, with Junior and Ryans playing baseball together in junior college. As Scott put it, getting Ryans on board “seemed to work out pretty well for us.”
Another Final Four appearance followed in 2006, with Cult West earning the reputation as an extremely tough out due to their athleticism. According to Scott, after a 2-1 loss to the eventual champion, they realized that winning a World Championship was within their reach. Matt came aboard as a full-time member in 2009, and through 2011, Cult West continued to contend and produce deep Sunday runs.
The trajectory of Cult West changed in 2012. After taking a year off from the softball/baseball circuit, the guys were looking “to get the band together more often” and began playing in ORWBL. Although they missed the 2012 WWBC due to scheduling conflicts, playing more frequently led to more success, including winning the 2012 ORWBL championship. League play led to more confidence in tournaments, as the Warriors became more relaxed in game situations. Three consecutive Hometown Cups followed in 2013-15 (they picked up a fourth in 2017), with another ORWBL championship in 2015.
Scott and Ryans made their return to the World Wiffle® Ball Championship in 2015 with the New Carlisle Newts, reaching the Final Four. After the tournament, Cult West determined it was the right time to complete some unfinished business and made plans to return to the 2016 WWBC.
“We have always enjoyed playing in the WWBC and enjoyed planning our whole summer around one weekend,” Scott said. “We made it something that we scheduled our summer around again, like we did for years.”
Although Ryans missed the 2016 WWBC, the Soos brothers and Danny Hernandez brought a loaded team with Wes Ellis (who had won the 2015 Hometown Cup with Cult West and previously reached the 2014 WWBC Championship game with the Maple City Magic) and Anthony Rieff. Ellis filled in admirably on the mound for Ryans, helping the Warriors to a perfect 8-0 weekend, Sunday wins over two former World Champions, and their first World Wiffle® Ball Championship.
“Even with our look being different, we found ways to win close games that we weren’t able to do in past WWBCs,” Scott said.
With a motivated Ryans returning in 2017, Cult West lifted the Princess City Crown again. They continued their dominance with a third consecutive title in 2018, extending their unbeaten streak to 24 games.
In 2019, the Warriors will look to become the second team in WWBC history to win four consecutive titles (the legendary Dud’s Gang won five straight from 1987-1991). However, for Cult West, the WWBC gives them an opportunity to enjoy a weekend together, win or lose.
“The tournament is part of who we are as a team,” Scott said. “(The WWBC) always gives us a reason to get together with our closest friends. Our wives are very much a part of making this a great weekend as well. It really has turned into a family event. We hope that the next generation of our families find it to be as important as we have.”