I've been covering the Justin Richards Scholarship Baseball Tournament for the past eight or 10 years.
As a baseball junkie, it's fun to spend a couple of days out of the office — soaking up what I hope will be more sunshine than rain — while enjoying the game I love.
The tournament, which ended Saturday, quietly celebrated its 19th anniversary. Nineteen consecutive years for any tournament in this day and age is an amazing accomplishment, as is keeping a scholarship going for so long.
I have watched other tournaments come and go. And I’ve seen scholarships in memory of an athlete who died too young fade a year or two after the athlete’s class graduated or family members moved on.
I can’t imagine the loss that Ronnie and Anita Richards experienced when they lost their oldest son, Justin, in a tragic accident 20 years ago. I do know that they keep Justin’s memory alive in a positive way with the annual tournament, which helps provide scholarship money to a graduating senior baseball player.
Ronnie and Anita don’t just put their stamp of approval on the tournament; they work it as well, helping get the field in shape between games and running the concession stand. Anita’s homemade ice cream is worth every penny. They sold 22 gallons of the frozen treat this year.
The tournament hits a milestone next year with the 20th edition of the annual event.
Plans are in the early stages to have a big celebration honoring Justin Richards' legacy and the tournament's history while recognizing past scholarship winners.
Labor of love
A generation of Crestview High School baseball players has grown up with the tournament as a fixture in their Bulldog experience. The tournament has become a part of their high school baseball legacy, although most will not fully understand what the tournament represents in the seasons of life for the Richards family.
For many players and fans, the tournament is just another summer tournament, but I have witnessed that it is a true labor of love, not only for the Richards family, but also for Bulldog baseball coach Tim Gillis and others within the program.
I never had the opportunity to meet Justin Richards or see him play baseball for the Bulldogs, but his story, along with his family's dedication, has touched my life.
Yes, I look forward to the Justin Richards Scholarship Baseball Tournament each year. It’s a fine baseball tournament, but it’s so much more than that.
The tournament is a gift not only to the Bulldog baseball team, but also to the Crestview community that enriches all who see the selfless dedication in honoring Justin's memory.
Randy Dickson is the Crestview News Bulletin’s sports editor. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org, tweet him @BigRandle, or call 682-6524.