Playing for Empowerment

Athletes traveled from all over the country, including California, to a unique softball game that is not only inspiring but also empowering.


Recently in a small town in Illinois called Crystal Lake women from several states brought their best game to the TNT Softball Classic Tournament to Strike Out Breast Cancer.

“We have this incredible tournament, inspired by Cheri [Dvorchak],” said Justin Hager, CVW reporter and the tournament’s director.

Dvorchak started this tournament to share her experience with breast cancer with others and to bring some good to the struggle she went through.

“It was a normal afternoon at work until the call came in. ‘I’m sorry to have to tell you…’ The only word you hear is cancer,” Dvorchak stated on the TNT Softball Classic website.

She shared how cancer had cast a long shadow on her family and how the diagnosis makes a woman feel powerless and out of control.

“I am a cancer survivor,” Dvorchak said. “I was diagnosed in 2013.”

She has played softball for many years with a team of women and loved the sport but in 2013 she thought this “may be my last year.”

This year’s players in the TNT Softball Classic Tournament to Strike Out Breast Cancer. Photos provided by Justin HAGER

“But I kept playing,” she said.

It was not easy; it took her a long time to get “out of my situation” with surgery and radiation, she said.

Then in 2017 a team member lost a loved one to cancer then another member of the team had a recurrence with her cancer fight.

Dvorchak realized how a cancer diagnosis affects not only the individual but also layers of friends and loved ones. So she decided to create a space where women could join in the great American pastime of softball, raise money for breast cancer care and research, build a sisterhood of support and have a great time.

“We wanted it to center on softball,” she said.

So the tournament was born. It has grown in number of players and interest by communities. COVID-19 did affect the tournament in 2020 – it was postponed due to the pandemic – but this year it returned stronger than ever.

The unique aspect of this softball competition is how teams are chosen.

“You don’t sign up as a team but as an individual. We pull names out of a hat and make the teams on the spot,” Hager said. “You might end up with a [teammate] who was your competition [in the past].”

He added this changed the emotion of the tournament, not only for the women teammates but also of those who support them.

“Women of all ages, abilities and backgrounds come together to set aside old rivalries and support each other,” said Hager. “Men have asked to participate or for a separate men’s tournament, and I simply tell them that TNT isn’t about us [men]. At this event it’s our job to serve and support these amazing and inspirational women.”

In addition to getting more women to sign up to play they were able to raise more funds this year, nearly $7,000. Their long-term goal is to raise $25,000 annually for cancer support.

Some of the teammates are cancer survivors, some are still “warriors” and others are playing for loved ones.

“A woman from California flies to Illinois every year and plays in her mother’s name,” Dvorchak said.

Dvorchak described her feeling of weakness and helplessness when she was first diagnosed.

“In those first days after diagnosis, everything changes. You don’t know if you’re going to live or die, see your kids get married or your grandkids grow up,” she stated.

She started the tournament as a way to fight back, as a personal power play against the disease, but it has come to mean so much more to so many. Her empowerment has created a bond with a sisterhood of warriors who will not let cancer stop their competitive spirit.

“My mom raised me to be a strong independent woman,” Dvorchak stated. “I am not a victim. I am a warrior. I am a survivor.”

To donate to TNT Softball Classic to Strike Out Breast Cancer, or to learn more about playing or volunteering, visit the website at The proceeds are donated to the Northwestern Memorial Foundation.