The largest field in the four-year history of the Gracie Haught Classic will show up March 20-21 to showcase their skills in a hometown softball tournament that is drawing rave reviews around the state.
Some of the plaudits were doled out last year by Benson coach Shad Housely who praised the tournament’s cause, the Gracie Haught Children’s Fund, saying when his players learned of the purpose, all were motivated to help out. Minutes later the team donated a hard-earned $2,000 to the Gracie Haught fund.
Brian McMinimy, a 1987 graduate of Benson High also publically lauded the fray saying, “I can tell you firsthand 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 ... Win or lose, everyone enjoys the tournament and the spirit it is played under.”
Tournament Director Charlene Hunt chimed in, “All the feedback we received was so positive, everyone said they had such a great time.”
It is with that spirit of camaraderie and sportsmanship that 12 prep teams representing the 2A to 5A ranks will battle on four Rumsey Park fields for the tournament’s top honors.
On opening day, Hunt has divided the teams into four pools — A, B, C and D — of four teams each.
Payson is aligned in Pool B along with Santa Cruz, Flagstaff and Miami.
Following a full day of round robin play in pools, the teams will be seeded on Saturday into a consolation bracket tournament.
In that tournament, 25 games will be contested beginning at 9 a.m. and continuing until 6 p.m. on Rumsey 2 where the championship will be decided.
Games will start every 1 1/2 hours.
In Friday’s round robin, the Lady Longhorns play at 10 a.m. (vs. Santa Cruz on Rumsey 1), 1 p.m. (vs. Flagstaff on Rumsey 2) and at 5:30 p.m. (vs. Miami on Rumsey East).
In Pool A are Blue Ridge, Florence, Queen Creek and Dobson.
Show Low, Camp Verde, Agua Fria and Buckeye are in Pool C. In Pool D are Estrella Foothills, Benson, Apache Junction and Bradshaw Mountain.
The Classic has been since its inception a school and town’s 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 Jo Haught, was the Lady Longhorns’ junior varsity softball coach, and the young girl was a frequent visitor to practices and games.
Since Gracie’s death, Bobbie Jo has returned to the team this season serving as a scorekeeper, player confidante and part-time coach.
Also, Payson High School coaches and administrators met following the accident to organize a 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 five 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 Jo said. “One of our biggest projects is a safety week we sponsor at the elementary school and (we) 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.”