The Gracie Lee Haught Children’s Memorial Fund calendar of events is highlighted each year by a trio of much anticipated sporting competitions that draw competitors from around Arizona.
The events include a highly popular high school softball tournament, a benefit golf tournament and a memorial roping.
This year, the fast pitch softball tournament will be held March 18 and 19 on Rumsey Park fields, and the benefit golf tournament is on the agenda for May 14 at Payson Golf Course.
The roping is set for June 19 at the Payson Event Center and will be contested in association with the Arizona State Junior Rodeo championships.
Almost everyone in the Rim Country is familiar with the GLH charity and the aid and assistance it provides those in need.
Its mission statement reads, “promoting and supporting the health, safety and wellness of local children.”
The fund was established six years ago after the death of three-year-old Gracie Lee, who was killed Feb. 6, 2004 in a tragic accident in Star Valley.
It’s now a division of the Mogollon Health Alliance and raises money to help children across the Rim Country with needs like car seats, bike helmets and medical bills.
The fund also sponsors the Safety First program at local schools and supports a medical training facility that is used to educate and train nurses and medical students.
The facility is named in Gracie’s honor.
Holding a softball tournament in Gracie’s memory is a natural, mostly because her mother, Bobbie Jo, was a PHS junior varsity coach at the time of the young girl’s death.
Gracie was also a frequent visitor to games and practices, and knew most of the Lady Longhorn players by name.
Since the tournament’s founding five years ago, it has grown bigger and better each spring.
In 2010, it hosted its largest field ever — 16 teams — a mark tournament director Charlene Hunt plans not to exceed.
“That makes it a tight tournament and we don’t have to play into the nighttime when temperatures turn cold,” she said. “We’ve already filled the tournament for this spring.”
In addition to the tournament giving high school players the opportunity to showcase their skills against teams from around the state, the diamond fray is touted as a huge boost to the sagging Rim Country economy.
Last year, Hunt said, it attracted to Payson for two days more than 200 prep players as well as large contingents of parents, fans and coaches that came from as far away as Tucson.
It’s not unusual during the tournaments, especially on Saturday afternoons, to see Rumsey Park overflowing with visitors there to catch exciting softball action, chow down on scrumptious concession delights or don a souvenir T-shirt.
A feel-good story centers on the Benson High School softball team, which has donated sizable contributions, usually $1,000-plus, to the Children’s Fund for the last three years. The players, doing odd jobs around town, earned all money donated.
The tournament has also developed a reputation around the state for its tremendous show of camaraderie, sportsmanship and healthy competition.
“It’s much more than softball games,” Hunt said.
The benefit golf tournament annually attracts a full field of 28 teams to play in one of the Rim Country’s most popular links events.
While the logistics of putting on the benefit are demanding, tournament director Jimmy Oestmann has said it is a labor of love.
The green fees of $260 per team include 18 holes of golf at PGC, golf cart, lunch, goodie bag and a chance to pocket prize money that last year was $400 for first, $200 for second and $100 for third. Several raffle prizes are also usually doled out.
The format is four-person best ball scramble and mulligans are available on the morning of the tournament.
More than 200 contestants turned out last year for the memorial roping hoping to collect a cut of the $9,000 in prize money.
Last year, attendance was a tad down which organizers attributed to similar events occurring the same weekend in Williams and Kingman.
This year, however, hosts are expecting higher numbers.
Part of the popularity of team roping is that it is the only sport in which men and women compete together and it is a way for people who love riding and horses to gather and enjoy their passion in friendly competition.
Last year, Chance Lewis won the heading championship and Amos Clendon took home the heeling title. Lewis pocketed $685 in prize money and Clendon won $1,161.
Both were also awarded saddles.
Call (928) 472-2588 for more information on any of the Gracie Lee Haught benefits including the “Kids Standing For Kids” program on July 30 and the annual Halloween Costume Party on Oct. 15.