By Colleen Jurkiewicz Dorman
Special to the News Graphic
GRAFTON — At first, it was a way to keep Matt’s memory alive.
Three years ago, the Malkowski family of Grafton held the first Pitch for Matt Cornhole Tournament at Circle B Recreation in Cedarburg. With the Grafton Little League in the midst of constructing fields at their new complex on Lakefield and River Bend roads, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to honor the legacy of their son and brother Matt, who died on April 30, 2010 from injuries sustained in a car accident on Pleasant Valley Road and Highway I in Cedarburg.
At the time of his death, Matt was a senior at Grafton High School, bound for Concordia University in Chicago. A proud Grafton Little League alum, he was a talented athlete and a member of the Grafton Volunteer Fire Department.
The Malkowskis set a fundraising goal of $50,000 for Matt’s “field of dreams,” as they came to call it.
Three years later, as they prepare for the last Pitch for Matt tournament under their coordination, they have exceeded that goal and planted the Matthew Malkowski Memorial Field, which will be dedicated in early June.
And though the project is still very much about honoring the memory of a young man who was devoted to his family and community, it has also become a testament to the resilience of that family, and the love that community has shown them in their darkest moments.
“This community has wrapped their arms around us for years,” said Jan Malkowski, Matt’s mom. “We’re just blessed to have people — strangers who don’t even know us — open their hearts and their pocketbooks and give us something that’s so important to us and to our son, our brother.”
The 2020 Pitch for Matt Cornhole Tournament will once again take place at Circle B Recreation on March 14. This will be the last year that the event is organized by the Malkowski family, who is turning over the reins of the tournament to Mel’s Charities.
Taking on this event is “an honor,” said Tom “Mel” Stanton, executive director of Mel’s Charities.
“We’ll be continuing the legacy and really picking up what they started,” he said. “There would be a lot of other organizations, nonprofits, that would love to have this event. For them not even to bat an eye and say, ‘We’d like to see Mel’s take this over,’ it means a lot to us.”
For the Malkowskis, it’s a fitting way to thank Mel’s for the support the nonprofit has shown them over the years. The cost of Matt’s field eventually ballooned to over $290,000, requiring more funding than the cornhole tournament proceeds alone could provide. To give the project a shot in the arm last summer, Mel’s donated $16,000 in proceeds raised from the raffle of a 2006 Sebring convertible.
To make up the rest of the money, said Malkowski, Ansay & Associates gave them a no-interest loan, and put the resources of Ansay Development Corporation at their disposal for the installation of the field.
“We know that had it not been for Ansay and Mel’s we would not be dedicating that field this year,” she said. “We would still be trying to raise money.”
Team slots for the Pitch for Matt tournament are sold out, but the public is still welcome to attend and celebrate on March 14. The tournament begins at 12:30 p.m., and the day will include 50/50 raffles and a silent auction. Donations can also be mailed to 452 Settlement Circle, Grafton, WI 53024; checks should be made out to Prayers for Matt.
Dedication of Matt’s field is slated for June 13 at 4 p.m., and will feature a field blessing and an exhibition game between Matt’s closest friends and the Grafton Fire Department Association.
“Out of our tragedy, something beautiful came,” said Malkowski. “There’s going to be a place where little kids can come and play and let their families forget all their troubles for just a short while. We’re just looking forward to good times to come, for decades to come.’
Members of the Malkowski family pose with representatives of Ansay & Associates, Mel’s Charities and Grafton Little League at the groundbreaking of the Matthew Malkowski Memorial Field in summer of 2019.