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Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
Cancer survivor and Swing for Life organizer Kathy Howa hugs Lil' Bear during opening ceremonies at the Cottonwood Softball Complex in Salt Lake City Saturday, April 27, 2013.

For the past decade Rowland Hall softball coach Kathy Howa has helped raised money for the Huntsman Cancer Institute through her Swing for Life foundation, and every year Juab coach Ally Gee and her players have been there in support.

So have Juan Diego, North Summit and San Juan — not to mention Rowland Hall.

“Kathy was in our region and when (she was diagnosed with cancer in 2002), it kind of hit home for all of us. Participating was the least we could do to support her and help her out,” said Gee, whose team took part in the inaugural Swing for Life hit-a-thon back in 2003.

Ten years later, the Wasps are still very much involved as they were one of 22 teams who participated in Saturday’s 11th-annual tournament at two different Salt Lake Valley venues. Gee doesn’t expect that to change anytime soon.

“My girls love it. It’s one of their favorite things to do. Just be here, the camaraderie with all the other teams, to see what (the money) is actually doing,” said Gee.

The teams range from 5A from to 2A, and all were part of pretty historic opening ceremonies at Cottonwood Complex on Saturday morning.

Prior to this year’s event, which actually got underway Friday with seven teams playing games at the Cottonwood Complex, Swing for Life had raised $998,000 for cancer research. After donations from Friday and Saturday, that figure surged well over $1 million, which Howa said she has a hard time fathoming.

“When we first raised the $12,000 the first year, that was a huge number to me. I couldn’t even believe it,” said Howa. “I thought every year as it kept getting bigger I said I needed to make a goal. My goal was a million, but I never believed that it would ever get there cause to me when you say it it’s just a big skyrocket amount. I guess now we get to make a new goal and start somewhere else.”

Several cancer survivors were honored along with Howa during Saturday’s opening ceremonies, which Howa said is the moment when a year’s worth of hard work all seems worthwhile. Howa and her many Swing for Life volunteers donate every penny received to the Hunstman Cancer Institute, not to mention the countless hours that goes into organizing such a event.

Howa couldn’t help but get emotional Saturday as she watched over 250 softball players don pink at the opening ceremonies all with the common goal of eradicating cancer.

“That is when I finally break down and feel the real part of it. That’s when it gets to me. 'Cause everybody is there and you know why they’re there, and we’re all together as one big team,” said Howa.