The 2008 edition of the Gracie Haught Classic high school girls softball tournament flourished as a fitting tribute to the young girl it was named after.
That's the opinion of many fans, players, parents and coaches who attended the event held March 28 and 29 at Rumsey Park.
"It was a fantastic tournament, one of the finest ever," Lady Longhorn assistant coach Kadi Tenney said.
Tournament director Charlene Hunt agrees, "All the feedback we received was so positive, everyone said they had such a great time."
Since the inception of the tournament four years ago, it has grown into two days of camaraderie, friendship and the coming together of both teenagers and adults to honor the memory of Gracie Haught.
Among the highlights of the fray was a heartfelt presentation to the Gracie Haught fund from the Benson High School softball team.
Benson coach Shad Housely told the crowd in attendance that his players wanted to honor the spirit of the tournament and the memory of Gracie Haught. So, they held several fund-raisers hoping to earn a few hundred dollars for the Gracie fund.
But when the benefit donations finally stopped rolling in, the team had garnered $2,000.
"That money will all go to the Gracie fund, not to the tournament," Hunt said. "It was such a great thing they did; Benson has been coming to the tournament since the very first one."
Payson resident Brian McMinimy, a 1987 graduate of Benson High, was on hand the see his alma mater play and present the donation to Hunt.
"I can tell you first-hand how wonderful this tournament is, how special it is to all involved and how proud the girls from all the schools are about being able to participate and the meaning behind it," he said. "Win or lose, everyone enjoys the tournament and the spirit it is played under."
McMinimy believes the annual two-day prep showdown is one of the crowning jewels in the Rim Country's sports and recreation agenda.
"The event is something Payson can be very proud of," he said.
Hunt said the annual Classic is a 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."
Helping children in need
The children's fund was started about four years ago with the help of the Mogollon Health Alliance.
Bobbie Jo Haught said the fund was founded to help her and other family members deal with the anguish of the loss of a child.
"We wanted to try and find an outlet for the grief and a way to help children and families in need," she said.
The money earned is earmarked for various children's projects around the Rim Country.
"We do a lot of things with the money to help kids," Bobbie Joe said. "One of our biggest projects is a safety week we sponsor at the elementary school and buy helmets for all the kids."
The fund has also helped pay children's medical bills, purchase toddler and infant car seats and pay for CPR and first aid training.
"If it's anything associated with medical help and safety for children, we can usually help out," she said.
"It is something very beautiful and something our whole community should be proud of and celebrate."