Winslow High has won a lot of softball games in the last several years.
On Saturday, they won something else — the hearts of softball fans everywhere.
The Gracie Haught Classic was established 10 years ago as a memorial to a little girl. More than anything else, this unique tournament honors good sportsmanship. This year’s tournament ended Saturday evening with Winslow players providing the best example of good sportsmanship you’ll ever find.
The Division 3 Bulldogs led Division 1 Surprise Willow Canyon 5-4 in the bottom of the fifth when an injury-free tournament ended in a shocking way as Willow Canyon sophomore right fielder Lacey Colvin and senior second baseman Alexis Encarnacion collided while chasing a fly ball in short right field. Both players suffered concussions and were taken to Payson Regional Medical Center.
Willow Canyon head coach Donnie Tizzano informed officials and Winslow head coach Kelli Fifelski that he would be departing Payson High to follow his kids to the hospital. Normally, Willow Canyon would have forfeited the tournament championship to Winslow. And, technically, Winslow will go down as going 6-0 and winning the tournament to improve to 15-0 this season. However, Winslow players discussed the situation and, in a remarkable display of sportsmanship, gave the first-place trophy to Willow Canyon.
Both teams gathered together on the infield while EMT’s cared for the two players in right field. Tears rolled down the cheeks of Willow Canyon players and Winslow players hugged them as they collectively prayed for the injured girls. Minutes later, Tizzano hugged each and every member of the Winslow team, thanking them for their kind gesture.
“It’s the whole feel of the tournament,” Tizzano said. “We appreciate it so much and it’s a great gesture by Winslow. But with the quality of people, coaches and the players that we’ve seen here, it’s really not surprising that that happened. They were really concerned for our girls. All competition was over. Everybody was a big softball family. We got support everywhere we need it.
“It’s great. This is our third year in the tournament and we’ll be back every year as long as I’m coaching. The spirit of the competition is there, but in the end, everybody knows why we’re here and what we’re trying to accomplish. It’s the best tournament that we play in every year.”
Tournament director Charlene Brown said this isn’t a typical tournament.
“What’s so special about this tournament is that it does have a special spirit about it,” she said. “The girls exhibit such great sportsmanship when they’re here. It’s not only just building good softball players and playing good softball, but we encourage good citizenship. So that’s what we try to impress upon them is play good sports but be a good person, too.”
Her daughter, Payson High varsity head coach Kadi Tenney, echoed her statement.
“The fact that we make it a memorial to Gracie has turned it into sort of an atmosphere where everyone tries to be a little more sportsmanlike, show a little more good character and then come together with a little bit more camaraderie between teams,” Tenney said. “Yeah, we want to play hard and we want to win. But the most important thing is good character, sportsmanship.”
Winslow players and coaches have clearly picked up on that.
The Bulldogs are 15-0 this year and have reached the Division 3/Class 3A state title game each of the last five seasons, winning the 3A crown in 2010. But their unselfish gesture this past weekend in Payson will shine as bright as any championship they might go on to win.
“If that happened with our team, it would just be devastating,” said Winslow coach Kelli Fifelski. “And we know the toll its going take on their team if it’s serious injuries with them. So we hope everything turns out alright. God be with them and God bless that entire team.”
The Bulldogs know all too well what it means to suffer a loss. The program and school is still trying to deal with the loss of former coach Becky Barris, who led Winslow to the 2010 title. Barris died in an automobile accident a couple of years ago.
Now, I hope Payson goes on to win the Division 3 state championship in a couple of months. But if they don’t, you can bet I’ll be rooting for the Bulldogs.
And I won’t be alone.