Ballplayers of all skill levels took to the field in droves Sept. 7 to support a Murphys mother in her ongoing battle with breast cancer.
Organizers agreed it was one of the largest turnouts ever for the Calaveras Cancer Support Group Softball Tournament. Hosted annually at Copello AMA Softball Park in Angels Camp, the event has raised money for community members with cancer for over 10 years.
This year, 16 teams signed up to play, some hailing from as far as Modesto. Each team pledged a donation of $300, and proceeds from a raffle and food items also went toward medical expenses for young mother-of-four Lindsey Wahlman and her family.
This year, the tournament raised an estimated $15,000, according to organizers.
“I am so grateful to everybody, because they came out and gave up their other obligations to be here,” said Wahlman, who stood beside her son Jeshua as he threw the tournament’s first pitch.
The pitch was caught by the tournament’s first beneficiary, Breanna Ziehlke, a 23-year-old brain cancer survivor who was first diagnosed at age 2. Her father, Mike Ziehlke, has organized the event since the beginning, with the support of dedicated volunteers.
“Today, we’re here to help Lindsey,” Mike Ziehlke said in a speech commencing the 2019 tournament. “I’ve never in my life had an impression made on me in that short a period of time than she did. She’s facing a battle, and to sit across the table and talk about it and smile, it left me speechless. And her faith and her outlook on life is just unbelievable.”
Before leading the crowd in prayer, Pastor Dusty Bach of Grace Hills Covenant Church in Angels Camp said, “What this shows today is love is more than words. It’s the actions of people, the commitment of people, and you’ve made that commitment today. You’re showing love and encouragement to this family, and that’s such a huge blessing.”
As the day unfolded and continued well into the evening, players exchanged lighthearted banter as spectators camped out around the fields, enjoying the temperate weather.
Some of the teams play all season long at various tournaments, while others dust off their cleats once a year to support the cause.
“Like Wally’s Leftovers,” said Jonathan Kitchell, who helps out each year in every facet of the tournament along with his wife, Laura. “They play once a year. That’s it. They show up here, and they play, and it probably takes the rest of the year to heal up.”
Coach of Wally’s Leftovers, Melissa Walraven, also coaches a league softball team, but the rather motley crew of friends and family who attend the fundraiser tournament each year are just there for a good time.
“We hardly ever win, but we’re the funnest team. Everybody loves playing us,” Walraven said.
This year’s tournament champions are Mossa’s Misfits out of Valley Springs. Each team member was gifted with a commemorative T-shirt. However, the event is more centered around the cause than coming out on top.
“The main thing is being here to support the people who are going through what they’re going through, because we can’t even imagine what they and their families go through,” said Walraven, who knows Lindsey Wahlman personally.
“It’s just something that needs to be done,” Kitchell said. “People need this. It’s good for them, and it really helps lift their spirits and helps them out financially a little bit with their incidentals. You know, insurance doesn’t cover everything, and it helps give them one less thing to worry about.”