Benefit Softball Tourney Has Its Biggest Field Ever


Former Lady Longhorn first baseman Skye McNeeley applies a tag to a sliding Miami Vandal. Action took place during the 2009 Gracie Haught Classic Tournament. McNeeley was eventually chosen to the all-tournament team.

Former Lady Longhorn first baseman Skye McNeeley applies a tag to a sliding Miami Vandal. Action took place during the 2009 Gracie Haught Classic Tournament. McNeeley was eventually chosen to the all-tournament team. |

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Dennis Fendler/Roundup

Lady Longhorn pitcher Mary Hagen was the mound ace during last year’s Gracie Haught Classic and will return this season as Payson’s No. 1 hurler.

Gracie Haught Classic Tournament Director Charlene Hunt has released brackets and game schedules for what she is predicting will be the finest prep softball tournament in the five-year history of the shoot-out.

“It’s going to be a good one. We have the biggest field ever (16 teams) and some really good teams coming,” she said.

For the opening day of the fray, March 19, Hunt has divided teams into four pools.

Pool A is comprised of Blue Ridge, Winslow, Estrella Foothills and Flagstaff. In Pool B are Payson, Benson, Bradshaw Mountain and Tucson Amphitheater.

Amphi, a 4A II school, is making its first appearance in the Classic.

“We’re excited to have them,” Hunt said.

Show Low, Wickenburg, Buckeye and Camp Verde are aligned in Pool C. In Pool D are Snowflake, Mesa Dobson, Santa Cruz and Mogollon.

On the first day, the teams will play round robins in each pool. Which means, each school will have three games putting a premium on pitching.

The following day, March 20, the teams will be seeded into one of two eight-team consolation and championship brackets based on their records in pool play.

Bracket A will be comprised of the teams that finished either first or second in their respective pools.

Bracket B will house the schools that finished third or fourth in pool play.

The top team from A bracket will be declared the overall tournament champion.

Games, which begin at 10 a.m. each day and continue almost continuously until 5:30 p.m., will be played on four Rumsey Park fields and at Payson High School.

At the conclusion of the two days, coaches will select an all-tournament team.

Last year, Lady Longhorn Skye McNeeley, who graduated with the class of 2009, was chosen to the prestigious team.

There is no admission charge to the Classic, and Hunt invites spectators to turn out and cheer on their favorite team and players.

The beginnings

Almost everyone in the Rim Country now knows the story that led to the founding of the Gracie Haught Classic.

It was originally begun in the spring of 2005 to honor 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.

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.”

All proceeds from the tournament, since its inception, have gone to benefit the Gracie Haught Children’s Memorial Fund.

The fund, which was established in 2005, works in conjunction with Mogollon Health Alliance to provide financial and emotional support to families suffering from the fallout of tragic accidents and unexpected emergencies, and helps those in need during the most difficult of times.

At the conclusion of the 2009 tournament, Benson High School coach Shad Housley presented a $1,000 check to Hunt to be donated to the children’s fund.

The money was raised by the players and marked the second consecutive tournament they’d made sizable contributions to the children’s fund.

Following the presentation, Hunt said, “The Benson team has taken to heart what the tournament truly represents.”

A Payson man, whose roots are in Benson, also lauded the spirit and camaraderie of the Classic.

Brian McMinimy, a 1987 graduate of Benson High, wrote in a letter to the Payson Roundup, “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.”

Benson has participated in the tournament since its inception, and usually contends for the title, despite being a 2A school often competing against much larger 4A and 5A teams.

About the only glitch that’s hampered the tournament over the years has been rain.

During the inaugural Classic, which was then an eight-team affair, the second day of play was called off due to rain and wet fields.

The following year, Hunt took the precautions of covering all the fields for two days prior to the tournament, but good weather prevailed, and the fray went on without a hitch. Since, there have been threats of rain, snow and cold weather, but games have been played as scheduled.

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