The seventh annual Gracie Lee Haught Classic fast pitch softball tournament tips off today, Friday, March 16, with the Lady Longhorns fielding a surprisingly strong team that could contend for the title.
The optimism in the Payson camp is due partly to the second-place finish the Lady Horns turned in during the season-opening, 12-team Buckeye Invitational tournament.
There, PHS whipped several Division II “big school” teams, proving they could play on even terms with the best of opponents.
The addition of rocket-armed pitcher Arianna Paulson, who moved this year to Payson from Ohio, also has fans predicting big things from the Lady Horns.
In the Buckeye tournament, Paulson hurled almost every inning, finishing with a 5-1 record.
This year, the Classic has drawn a record 20 teams that will battle it out today in one of four pools — A through E. The results of those games will be used to seed the teams into championship brackets for tomorrow’s (Saturday, March 17) action.
Games over the course of the two days will be played on four Rumsey Park fields and on Lady Longhorn diamond.
The tournament wraps up 5:30 p.m. tomorrow with the championship game at Rumsey I.
Payson opens pursuit of its first Gracie Haught title at 9 a.m. today on Rumsey I vs. Joseph City.
At noon, Payson plays Santa Cruz on Rumsey II.
Payson and Sunnyslope clash at 3 p.m. on the Rumsey Kiwanis East field.
One again this year, Charlene Brown returns as director of a tournament she helped found.
This year for the first time, Brown and her staffers are taking another step toward their goal of making the tournament more than just softball.
It’s called “The Eighth Inning” and will begin at 7:30 p.m. today, Friday.
Following the day’s games, all the players and coaches will gather in Rim Country Middle School gymnasium to enjoy a free movie and popcorn. Players are also welcome to bring their own dinners to the gym.
“It will give the teams a chance to get to know each other and provide everyone with safe and fun entertainment,” said Brown.
The highlight of the evening will be an awards ceremony in which tournament officials will recognize a team or player for an outstanding act of service to their town or community.
Coaches who witness such acts are being asked to forward info to Brown, assistant PHS coach Kadi Tenney or special assistant Judy Baker for consideration for the award.
Helping children in need
Following Gracie Lee Haught’s death due to an accident in 2004 when she was four years old, family and friends founded the Gracie Lee Haught Children’s Memorial Fund which, in cooperation with the Mogollon Health Alliance, helps Rim Country families pay medical bills and promotes the safety and well being of children.
Bobbie Jo Haught, Gracie’s mother, says the memorial fund helped her and other family members deal with the anguish of the loss of a child and she hopes the funds can in the future help other parents deal with adversity.
“We do a lot of things with the money to help kids,” said Haught. “One of our biggest projects is a safety week we sponsor at the elementary school and buy bicycle 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,” Haught said.
“It is something very beautiful and something our whole community should be proud of and celebrate.”