Strike Out Cancer Tournament a success

A hitter puts a nice swing on a pitch during the Strike Out Cancer Softball Tournament in Evanston earlier this month. Than annual event drew in 57 teams from around the region, and raised over $18,000 for the Uinta Cancer Care Foundation. (HERALD PHOTO/Don Cogger)

The Strike Out Cancer Softball Tournament — one of the most popular tournaments of its kind in the region — continues to grow in leaps and bounds, as anyone traveling on Sixth Street earlier this month can attest.

The 57 teams that descended on the Overthrust Ballfields Complex the weekend of June 12-14 were welcomed with clear skies (albeit chilly evenings) and a ton of softball, with proceeds benefiting the Uinta Cancer Care Foundation.

“The tournament started as just a group of local people — the Blevins [Kody and Gabriela] family and myself — as a way to raise donations for the Uinta Cancer Care Foundation,” said foundation member Nicole Espy. “In the last couple of years, Chance Bumgardner has started helping us, as well. We started it because we knew there was a need.”

Having just celebrated its fifth year, the annual event brought in a whopping $18,000 for the UCCF, the largest donation since the tournament’s inception in 2016.

“We were close to $15,000 for 2 years, we were pretty excited for the increase considering Covid,” Espy said.

In the men’s upper division, the team from SavOn took the top spot, while “Ignite Chaos” won the men’s lower bracket. A team named simply “Anonymous” was tops in the women’s division. “SuperHeroes in Training” won the coed lower bracket title, with “Half-Cocked” winning the coed upper bracket. The “Purple Cobras” were the 2020 Beer Trophy recipients.

Putting a tournament of this size together can be a challenge logistically, even in the best of times; this year saw the added challenge of trying to pull off an event — one that relies heavily on participant interaction — in the midst of a global pandemic.

“It was a little stressful — we were working closely with public health to make sure we kept everyone safe and social distancing,” Espy explained. “It was a lot of stressful work, but in the end, it was very much worth it.”

In the past, participants and spectators were allowed to roam freely about the Overthrust Complex during the tournament — COVID-19 changed all that. The only people allowed into the complex itself this year were the teams that were playing and the teams that were on deck; the bleachers were on the outside of the complex, and people were allowed to set up camp chairs along the outfield fences, as long as they maintained the proper distancing.

“There were some complaints that we weren’t social distancing, and that was not the case — we took the temperatures of every single person that came into the complex every morning,” Espy said. “Teams knew that when they walked up to the tent, they had to have their temperature checked, put on a wristband and sign a waiver. All the teams did really well with following the rules. We told them, ‘Hey, follow the rules, or they shut us down.’ And everybody did that.”

The event featured concessions, a beer wagon, a beer trophy, jersey sales and a silent auction. Lazer Sports and SavOn were on hand for the event, donating money and items for the silent auction, as well as playing in the tournament. Rocky Mountain Power was also a sponsor of the event, and Quality Inn was the tournament’s host hotel.

As one might expect, the event provided a much-needed boost to the local economy, which has taken a hit due to the pandemic.

“When I talked to the Quality Inn, they said they had to open up their second building to accommodate the traffic from the tournament,” Espy said. “Before that, the hotel thought they were going to have to make some business choices because of COVID, but now they’re doing good. I had heard Ichiban, Lincoln Highway and Don Pedro’s were busy that weekend, as well.”

The Strike Out Cancer Tourney has continued to grow exponentially over the years, though there were fears this year that numbers might drop because of the pandemic.

“I think we had between 10 and 15 teams that first year [in 2016],” Espy said. “We almost tripled that number the second year, and we’ve just continued to grow since then. Usually we still have teams signing up the week of, but this year we were full six weeks before the event. Teams always tell us, ‘This is our favorite tournament, we love coming to Evanston.’ We have a lot of teams that religiously come every year.”

It turned out to be a busy weekend in Evanston in regard to sports — the Outlaws AA Legion team hosted a tournament at Ross Kesterson Memorial Field for the first time in years, and organizers for both events kept their fingers crossed as COVID numbers in Uinta County saw an unexpected spike in positive tests in the days leading up to the start of play.

“That Thursday, when the cases started to spike, we were like ‘Oh man, what are we gonna do?’ We already had 50 percent of the teams paid by that point,” she said. “They had booked hotel rooms, that kind of thing. We were nervous there for a while.”

Both tournaments went off without a hitch, and so far, no new cases have been attributed to the tournament weekend.

“I was asked by the Uinta County Health Board to call all the teams and ask if anyone has been tested positive or have any symptoms of Covid-19,” Espy said. “100% of the teams said all the players on each team were all healthy.”

Espy said the tournament wouldn’t be possible without the help and support of the community.

“Kody and Gabby [Blevins] are amazing at what they do — they keep everything flowing very well,” Espy said. “That’s another reason teams like to come here — games are on time, and teams know exactly when and where they’re playing.”

She also singled out the efforts of the Rec Center, who were instrumental in making sure restrictions and guidelines were followed.

“The Rec Center worked with us, and they were amazing,” Espy said. “We appreciate everything they did for us. They added several things to help us out with all the COVID issues, and they were a huge help. We appreciate everything they did for us this year.”

Though it’s still a bit early yet for organizers to begin planning next year’s event, Espy said she’s confident everything will be ready to go come the second weekend in June of 2021.

“Every year, we say ‘We’re not doing this again, it’s too much!’ but every year, as it gets closer, we all change our minds,” Espy said, laughing. “In the end, it’s always worth the stress to be able to help out the Uinta Cancer Care Foundation.”

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