Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
Kearns' Ashlyn Judd throws a pitch during the Swing for Life softball tournament to benefit Huntsman Cancer Institute.

Online photo gallery: Swing for Life Tournament

DRAPER — Kathy Howa may have founded Swing for Life in the months after her breast cancer diagnosis, but the 10-year-old event, which has raised nearly a million dollars for cancer research belongs to a lot of people.

On Friday morning, when overnight rain threatened to cancel some of the softball games scheduled on the first day of the Swing For Life Tournament, it was the Alta Hawks who took ownership.

"They really just came together and made this happen," said Howa, who is the head softball coach at Rowland Hall-St. Mark's. "We knew it was going to rain, and we were ready for a late start."

What Howa didn't expect was what the Hawks did.

Alta head coach Tiffany Airmet said her team boarded a bus at 6:45 a.m. in Draper in hopes of playing at 9 a.m. at Cottonwood Complex. When the team arrived, they were told no games would be played until 3 p.m. that day.

"The girls said, 'We'll do anything to play,'" said Airmet. So the coach suggested moving the games to Alta's field. Howa agreed and started notifying teams that the tournament was moving to Draper.

"I said, 'We can make our field playable'," Airmet said near the end of a day that included two exciting wins for her squad. "Our field is so good at draining, and our crew is amazing. But then I got here at 8:30 and there was a lake behind home plate."

The girls were already working the field with a half dozen parents who'd rallied to help turn the mud into an infield.

"They had mud up to their knees," said Howa. "It's not about any one person. Every year, someone steps up and people just come out of the woodwork to help. It means a lot to everybody."

With smiles on their faces, some help from parents (and a lot of cat litter) and maintenance workers, the players had the field ready to go shortly after 9:30 a.m.

"This wouldn't have happened without Tiffany," said Howa, who still can't quite believe the way athletic communities from high school to professional teams like the Grizzlies and Bees have embraced the event and its purpose.

In addition to the annual tournament, which began in 2002 as a hit-a-thon, Swing For Life helps teams raise money for and host Pink Games.

Alta hosted two Pink Games in an effort to reach their goal of raising $1,000 for the charity. Airmet said the team got involved about five years ago when the mothers of two players were battling cancer.

This year they have a player on the team who survived Leukemia as a child.

"It's something that hits close to home for everyone," said Airmet. "We had a lot of support (in the fundraising), and our kids worked really hard. We feel really successful."

They also had a good day on the field that they helped transform Friday morning. The Hawks took on two of 2A's top teams and earned a 4-3 win over Grand and had to rely on a three-run home run from Rylie Adams in the sixth inning to earn a win against second-ranked San Juan.

"They were really good games," said Airmet.

But both she and Howa admit the tournament is more about the fundraising and educational aspects than it is about the competitions on the field. Small schools from rural communities take on urban schools that are four and five times larger. They worry more about getting every player a chance to test herself than they do about the score or stats.

"What's really neat is that it's not about winning or losing," said Howa, whose team lost 12-2 to Kearns Friday afternoon. "It's about getting better and doing something better for the community."