After the tragic death of Hermiston’s Jeremy Howard in 2009 due to melanoma, his family wanted to be able to not only keep Jeremy’s spirit alive, but educate people about the disease and how it can be prevented.

Well, since Howard loved to play baseball in his youth, then slow-pitch co-ed softball as he became older, it was an easy choice to hold a tournament in his honor.

Now in its third year, the “For the Love of the Game” co-ed softball tournament, created by Jeremy’s wife Brandi, has exploded in popularity and almost single-handedly funds two scholarships for senior Hermiston athletes.

Oh, and it also helps fund the sunscreen industry. They buy plenty of that.

The tournament, which will be held June 9-10 this year at Theater Sports Park in Hermiston, serves as a celebration of what kind of person Howard was while alive and a melanoma awareness weekend that no one can ignore.

During the 20-team tournament, play will stop every two hours so players can apply — or re-apply — sunscreen to not only prevent those painful sunburns, but harmful ultraviolet rays that could potentially cause skin cancer.

While the tournament is the main fundraiser for the scholarship, which was awarded to Hermiston High School seniors Kain Garcia and Crystal Schmidt this year, it’s also something that Jeremy’s family felt like they had to do.

“It just feels so good to do something for Jeremy,” Brandi Howard, Jeremy’s wife, said. “He grew up an athlete and was just such a great guy and family man. Playing softball is like having a little family that’s with you every weekend.”

According to Brandi, family is what drives this tournament and the support from the commnunity, and people outside the community that travel to play in the tournament, are just bonuses that she is truly grateful for.

“This is just so great for everyone to get together to play a sport he absolutely loved,” Brandi said. “We wanted to give back to the community as well.”

That’s where the scholarship fund came into play, and it has taken off like a rocket over the three years.

As far as tournament sponsorship goes, which goes toward the scholarship fund, the tournament has raised more than $6,000 this year. In the first year, it made a little more than $1,000.

“Instead of me calling people, they call me and want to know how much we need so they can help,” Brandi said. “It just brings so much joy to my heart.”

That’s just sponsorship money, too. The tournament started with eight teams and is now bursting at the seams, and Brandi and tournament organizer Casey Hocker have been forced to turn teams down because the two fields at Theater Sports Park can only handle so much.

Hocker knew Jeremy through the softball circles and said they had a friendly rivalry while on the field, but off the field they were pretty good friends. When Brandi posted about starting the tournament on the social networking site, Facebook, shortly after Jeremy’s death, Hocker dove head-first into it.

“I just told her I would help with what I could,” Hocker said. “I’ve got to know Brandi and the family more and more through this tournament and it’s been great.”

While Hocker runs the tournament logistics, like bracketing, when teams play, registration and similar tasks, he deflects all the credit back to Brandi and the family for being the driving force behind this fantastic event.

“There’s so many people that do a lot for this tournament,” Hocker said. “It’s all non-profit and after our expenses it goes toward the scholarship which is the main thing.”

Sometimes to scholarship just isn’t subject to the award winners, either. If there’s some carryover, or if Brandi is just feeling generous, she’ll hand out a couple more checks to deserving students.

As for the event itself, play begins Saturday morning and a home run derby, which Hocker said is usually a sight to be seen, begins around 7:30 p.m. Saturday night. The tournament concludes on Sunday with most valuable player and championship trophies handed out.

Also during play, if someone makes a highlight, Sportscenter Top 10-type play, the game is stopped and they given a prize for making a “Duck” play, which was Jeremy’s nickname.

In order for the tournament to grow even more, next year they are planning to have the tournament run all day and all night, similar to the very-popular “Moonlight” tournaments held in LaGrande.

But boiled down, this tournament is about family and staying together in trying times while doing something you love.

“It’s about his love for the game,” Brandi said. “It’s about a great guy and his children that are growing, and about my love for him.”

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