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Guinness World Record for largest game of catch now belongs to Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington

Some of the 2,000 people who helped set a Guinness World Record for the largest game of catch during the annual “DadFest” at Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington. (Karie Angell Luc / Pioneer Press)

Taking a classic activity between father and son to new heights, thousands helped set a new Guinness World Record for the largest game of catch at Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington on Father’s Day.

Nearly 2,000 people gathered outside of the church Sunday before arranging into 972 pairs and tossing baseballs to one another.

The successful effort to play the largest game of catch broke the previous record set by MLB and fans of the Cincinnati Reds on July 9, 2015, before the MLB All-Star Game that year in Cincinnati, said Philip Robertson, an adjudicator with Guinness World Records Limited who was in South Barrington on Sunday to verify the world-record attempt.

"Here at Willow Creek, they’re doing something pretty cool on Father’s Day, which is bringing fathers and children together to play catch, to celebrate fatherhood on a day that’s really important to the church," Robertson said.

The attempt to set a new world record for the largest game of catch was a part of the church’s "DadFest," an annual festival at Willow Creek recognizing fathers over the Father’s Day weekend, event organizers said.

The 2,000 people who helped put Willow Creek Community Church in the Guinness World Records outnumbered the 1,058 people (529 pairs) who had previously set the record for the largest game of catch in Cincinnati nearly two years ago.

Officials with Major League Baseball also congratulated Willow Creek Community Church for breaking the record.

"Major League Baseball would like to congratulate the Willow Creek Community Church in setting a new Guinness World Record for the largest game of catch," said MLB spokesman Matt Bourne. "We encourage everyone to play ball and look forward to seeing who can break the record next."

In South Barrington, registered contestants played catch in sectioned off areas outside of Willow Creek. Partners had to stand nine feet apart during the attempt and within lawn markings to avoid being disqualified by judges with Guinness World Records Limited.

All participants had to play five minutes of continuous catch to be counted after taking an initial warm-up toss. Different stewards, who were manning the different sections, stood by monitoring their set of 25 partners.

Underneath blue skies and breezy conditions, participants wore baseball caps, visors, sunglasses, sun block and clothing from their favorite teams, such as the Chicago Cubs, Chicago White Sox and even some Cincinnati Reds colors, as they embarked on the world-record attempt.

Participants were looking forward to helping set a new world record, organizers said.

"This is one of the most awesome events I’ve been to here," said Kisha Tudela, of Hoffman Estates, a volunteer who staffed a sign-in table. "It’s so much fun."

Wearing Cubs colors, Summer Silks, 10, of Warrenville, played catch with her uncle John Hoffman, also of Warrenville, during the attempt.

"We think this is awesome," Hoffman said. "She’s (Summer) been looking forward to this all week and was excited to get here. … We’re bonding out here and we’re going to break the Guinness World Record."

Once the attempt ended, organizers announced the favorable results through a speaker from the back of a pickup truck on site.

The crowd who stayed for the announcement cheered and raised their cell phones to capture the moment as Steve Carter, teaching pastor at Willow Creek Community Church, accepted a framed certificate verifying the successful world-record attempt.

"It feels great. We did it," Carter said, smiling as he hoisted the certificate. "All of Willow came together. We broke a record!"

Karie Angell Luc is a freelance reporter and photographer for Pioneer Press