The inaugural Gracie Haught Memorial High School Softball Tournament will feature eight topnotch teams from the 2A, 3A and 4A conferences.
Representing the 4A "big school" conference will be Chandler Basha, newly built Avondale La Joya, and host Payson. The 3A conference will send Blue Ridge, Higley, Queen Creek and Estrella Foothills to the diamond fray. Benson is the lone 2A school.
According to tournament director Charlene Hunt, the field for the tournament could have been much larger.
"We had a lot more teams that wanted in but we decided to keep it at eight because its our first tournament and we lack enough fields for more (teams)," she said. "If we get the (Heritage) grant to build the two other fields (at west Rumsey Park), we'll expand the (tournament) field."
The tournament is slated for March 18 and 19 on Rumsey I and the Lady Longhorn diamond.
According to Lady Longhorn coach Will Dunman, the tournament will provide his players the opportunity to tune their skills in friendly Rim country confines.
"We will play some good quality teams and be able to stay at home -- that's big for us," he said. "Because of our good weather and central location in the state, we think this will be a tournament that could grow to 16 teams."
In the tournament format, the first day will feature a round robin of four teams in two pools. The results of pool play will be used to seed the teams, on the second day, into a double-elimination tournament.
Games begin at 10 a.m. the first day and 9 a.m. Saturday. The championship game is 5 p.m. Saturday on the high school field. According to Hunt, the format was designed to ensure the players received ample opportunity to gain invaluable on-the-field experience.
"Every team is guaranteed at least five games," Hunt said.
Edward Jones to sponsor memorial
The three Edward Jones Investment offices in Payson have stepped in to provide the Gracie Haught Memorial Softball Tournament a rare corporate sponsorship.
According to Kevin Dick of Edward Jones, the firm was elated to help sponsor the tournament.
"Jamie Ludtke, in our office, shared the story of Gracie with us and it touched everyone," he said. "We wanted to do something to help out."
Three-year-old Gracie was killed Feb. 6, 2004 in a tragic accident in Star Valley.
At the time, her mother, Bobbie Joe Haught, was the Lady Longhorns' junior varsity softball coach and the young girl was a frequent visitor to practice and games.
Following the toddler's death, coaches at Payson High met to organize the memorial tournament.
"We wanted to honor her family and all that Bobbie Jo had done for the program," coach Will Dunman said. "This is our way of showing our respect for Gracie and the family."
In addition to receiving financial support from Edward Jones, the tournament received a $900 contribution from the Mogollon Sporting Association and $600 from the Tonto Apache Tribe and Mazatzal Casino. The latter donation represents the prize money two Hot Ice women's softball teams earned at a home run derby sponsored last year by the tribe and casino.
The winning Hot Ice team of Nina Ray, Molly Hunt and Melody Deaton received $500 that went to the tournament. The third-place team of Cherry Nottingham, Cheri Brennen and Marci Sanders earned $100 for the tournament.
MSA member Sandee Koon said in making the donation, MSA members wanted to help provide a quality athletic experience for local players and to honor Gracie's memory.
The sponsorship of Edward Jones, MSA and the tribe/casino has helped turn what was once only the vision of a few coaches into a reality.