Saturday was a huge day for local sports fans.
The Utes held their annual Red and White spring football game; the Grizzlies grabbed another playoff victory to take a 3-2 lead in their first-round ECHL playoff series against Fresno; the Bees earned another win and improved their record to 15-1, and the annual Salt Lake Marathon was held, just to name a few.
Oh, and the Utah Jazz won their opening-round playoff game against the Houston Rockets.
For me, all of this was overshadowed by the Swing-for-Life Hit-a-thon at the Cottonwood Complex. And while there will be those who will want to argue with me about whether or not it was a sporting event, I just want to give those who weren't there a glimpse of the players who gave up a Saturday in hopes of helping someone else.
Please keep in mind that without the efforts of all the players who participated, both at the Cottonwood Complex and at schools around the state, this event wouldn't have raised more than $180,000 in its first five years.
Sydney Gibbs, North Summit: Just a sophomore, this pitcher isn't just improving her ability to throw batters off balance. Last year, teammates Jenessa Williams and Kelli Stuart asked coach Lance Pace if he and his wife would buy them dinner if they raised $1,000 each for the hit-a-thon. They raised the money, the Paces bought them dinner, and a new tradition was born at North Summit one of the smallest 2A schools in the state.
"It just sort of created a new competition," Pace said. When he announced that Sydney had a slight lead over another player, Sydney took some action to ensure her victory as the Braves' biggest fundraiser.
"She went out and got another $150 in donations," he said. The most remarkable thing about her effort was "that she didn't have anyone give a really huge amount; it was just a lot of people donating a little."
North Summit raised the most of any school so far with $5,200.
Ciera Nordin, Murray: This senior second baseman is reliable and consistent on the softball field, and during this fundraiser she proved she's just as dependable off the field. Nordin isn't normally the most vocal leader, but she organized and oversaw the Spartans' effort this year.
"She got brownies and they went out and sold them and raised nearly $1,000 doing just that," said Murray coach Lisa Parker. "She isn't normally a big leader, so it was pretty awesome that she did that."
Brandi Lovato, Cyprus: Just a junior, this all-state pitcher has raised about $500 each of the three years she's participated. She was among the top individual fundraisers and is among the state's most talented athletes.
Her motivation may have been known only to her in years past, but this Saturday, she wore a pink sign that dedicated her efforts to her grandmother.
Erin Armentrout, Rowland Hall: This senior outfielder is a three-sport athlete who "has put all of her energy into this since she was in middle school," said Winged Lions coach Kathy Howa. Also an honor student, Armentrout is among the hardest-working players on the squad.
"She never complains, and she plays until the final out."
Jessica Martin, Bountiful: This senior pitcher struggled last season but never gave up her love of softball. That's a good thing for the Braves, as Martin has pitched nearly every game due to an injury to the team's other top pitcher. She's among the hardest-working players on the team, on and off the field, and really helped lead the team in its effort again this season.
"She spent the day out there feeding me the ball and told me how much she enjoyed it," Bountiful coach Butch Latey said. "She bounced two hits over the fence."
Howa, now cancer-free for more than five years, expects this annual tradition to grow even larger as more teams realize the importance of the effort and the value of the activities. It's already blossomed into two days and interest in three other states to participate, and now local colleges are showing some interest in joining the cause. Howa hasn't collected all of the money raised, but as of Sunday night she had, in her possession, slightly more than $28,000.I guess in retrospect, Saturday wasn't just a big day for sports fans.