Local softball player and coach Charlene Hunt is passionate about the Gracie Haught Classic Softball Tournament -- so much so that she's trying to make it one of the finest high school competitions in Arizona.
Building the tournament into a top-notch event, she said, is her way of honoring the memory of 3-year-old Gracie, who 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 a cash donation from Edward Jones Investment, the tournament received a $900 contribution from the Mogollon Sporting Association and $600 from two Hot Ice women's softball teams. The teams earned earned the money 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 earned $500 that was donated to the tournament. The third-place team of Cherry Nottingham, Cheri Brennen and Marci Sanders donated the other $100.
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.
Others who have contributed include Pioneer Title, Jeff Vaughn Homes, Roy and Marie Haught, Wrangler Plumbing, Waste Management, Payson Parks and Recreation, Lifestar Ambulance, Sanders Custom Signs and Gila RediMix.
The inaugural Gracie Haught Classic begins at 10 a.m. March 18 in two pools of four teams each.
Blue Ridge, Higley, Basha and Benson are in pool A. In pool B are Queen Creek LaJoya, Estrella Foothills and Payson.
At the conclusion of a full day of round-robin play at Rumsey Park and Lady Longhorn field, the results of the games will be used to seed the eight teams into the March 19 finals. In it, each team is guaranteed to play at least two games. The championship game is at 5 p.m. on the high school diamond.
On the first day, Payson will play at 10 a.m. vs Queen Creek (Rumsey), 2:30 p.m. vs. LaJoya (high school) and 5:30 p.m. vs. Estrella (high school).
Souvenir tournament T-shirts designed by PHS student Amanda Palandri will be available for sale to the public. Concessions stands will be open at both ball parks.