With the high school sports season coming to a close, it’s time for all of us to shift our eyes and ears toward the long, hot summer days in Hermiston and events that really make this community go while school isn’t in session.

While there are plenty of fantastic events during the hot months in the Columbia Basin, I think there’s one that truly has an impact on lives and brings out the true meaning of what it means to be a family.

I’m talking about the Jeremy Howard “For the Love of the Game” co-ed softball tournament.

This year’s tournament is June 9-10, so next weekend, and will be a fun outing for just about anyone in the family. Young, old, small or tall, this softball tournament is as entertaining as it is thought-provoking and enlightening.

In the news story about it to the right of this space, the basic information is given and presented. Since news is just that, news, sometimes the magnitude of the emotions an event can bring is lost a little bit.

Well, I’m not about to let that happen.

After having great conversations with tournament organizer Casey Hocker and creator Brandi Howard, I could easily tell why this event has exploded in popularity around the region, from both participation and financial standpoints.

It’s all about family.

Both Hocker and Howard told me the idea of the tournament was to just do something for a great guy that had his life cut short. Brandi described what a great father and family man Jeremy was, and Hocker said “Duck” was one of those guys that if you didn’t know him, you wish you did. I know I wish I could have met him.

While a fierce competitor on the field, Duck gave it an all-out effort no matter what he was doing.

Whether it was hitting a game-winning home run against Bend in 1989 (there’s audio from that game from a KOHU broadcast on YouTube if you search “Jeremy Howard Softball Tournament” it’s the first hit. The video is great, as well) or trying to make the transition from baseball to slow-pitch softball, he did it with fire and a never-quit attitude.

While Brandi told me there were some times where he’d feel a little down about it, he would always figure out a way to improve and keep perspective.

This tournament keeps it all in perspective.

With the mandatory sunscreen application every two hours, the highlight-reel plays (called “Duck Plays”) that evoke an immediate stoppage of play to hand out an award or to an entire team wearing Duck’s No. 9 on the back on its jerseys, the tournament is part awareness, part celebration and a whole lot about families and what they do to stay together in tough times.

Something like this is part of the healing process, no doubt, for the Howard family and friends — and needs to be held in high honor.

One of Duck’s daughters, Courtney Howard, shows up in this section of the paper quite a bit. She’s probably one of the best catchers to set foot on the dirt at the Rocky Heights Elementary softball field. Mechanically and mentally she’s extremely good at what she does behind the plate.

She’s going to play college softball for George Fox next year and will, mark my word, make an immediate impact to the program.

How? Well, from what I’ve been told about Duck, she plays the game just like her dad.

Whether it’s softball, baseball, sports in general, or even life, we all need to perform like Jeremy. While his untimely death took him off the Earth and away from his family and friends he held dear, we can all keep his legacy alive by simply giving whatever we do all we have.

This also brings up something that’s much bigger than any sport, the awareness that skin cancer is very preventable. Jeremy and his family did everything right when a mole was spotted on his body. They had it removed, tested and the cancer was in remission for awhile.

But sadly, it reared its ugly head again and before anyone knew it, Duck died of melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer.

We can all take steps to help prevent this from happening to ourselves and friends and family. Hold your friends — and yourself — accountable, try to stay out of the afternoon sun when its UV rays are most powerful, stay away from tanning beds and wear sunscreen with a SPF of at least 30.

I plan on being out at the tournament for the better part of Saturday (and maybe Sunday, too), and between the scheduled lathering of sunblock, I hope people play hard, fun and most importantly, for the love of the game.

Billy would love to hear from you. Write to him at bgates@hermistonherald.com.

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