As they were about to start the 19th game of a three-day, indoor, fast-pitch girls softball tournamant Thursday, the organizer called the two teams and umpires to the pitcher's mound for a 27-second moment of silence to honor the victims of the Newtown school shootings.
Then Ashley Kuligowski, a coach from the Newtown team, talked about the natural rivalry between her team and their opponent from nearby Monroe and thanked them for allowing students from Sandy Hook Elementary School to use one of their schools after the tragedy that took the lives of 20 students and six educators there. The shooter committed suicide.
Monroe coach Ipolito Castro responded that Monroe would do anything it could to help its neighbor to the north. And then the call of "play ball" was made by David Rocha.
Rocha, owner of Fastpitch Nation, an indoor softball venue in Bloomfield, pulled together the tournament on short notice in an effort to raise money for the Newtown victims and their families.
A former Newtown resident whose daughter had attended Sandy Hook Elementary School, Rocha said he was reading about and watching coverage of the shooting and felt compelled to do something. So he sent out a mass email to the coaches of teams that have played, practiced or taken lessons at his business.
"By the next morning, I had 75 emails saying 'We want to come,'" Rocha said.
He said he had to add a day to the tournament and turn away teams because there wasn't enough time for all the games. He also had to limit the 58 teams, which were asked to pay a minimum donation of $150 to enter, to playing one game with a 65-minute time limit. He also had commitments from more than 30 volunteer umpires.
Teams from around the state and from Massachussets, Albany, N.Y., and Saddlebrook, N.J., made the trip. Play began on Wednesday.
"There was no hesitation, no questions," said Chrissy Russo of Saddlebrook, who drove three hours to watch her two daughters play one game. "They just really wanted to be a part of it."
The team and families planned to visit Newtown on the way home to pay their respects.
As she took batting practice before the game, Allie Eurell, 12 and a pitcher for Newtown, was asked how she felt about playing in the tournament.
"I wanted to play to support my town and all my friends who lost siblings," Allie said.
Her father, John Eurell, agreed, adding that playing ball is good for the kids.
"It's really hard but you've got to try to find some kind of normalcy," he said. "We're happy to be here."
Rocha said that between the entry fees — one team donated $1,000 to play — and the "20 Angels In The Outfield" T-shirts he had made up, he expected to be able to donate about $15,000 to the Sandy Hook Support Fund, the charity recommended by the Newtown Board of Education.
The final tally was, $20,000, Rocha said New Year's Day.
He doesn't know yet if the tournament will become an annual event.
"We certainly don't want to forget, but we don't want to try to do something good and make it sad," Rocha said.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun