HOQUIAM — On January 27, 2012, the spirit of a community was shattered.
Nearly seven years later, with the pain and loss still very real, the memory of a once shining light continues to brighten the futures of others.
At Olympic Stadium on Sunday, the Olympia Dream Team defeated the Olympia Diablos, 9-1, in the championship game of the 7th Annual Aaron J. Foote Memorial Baseball Tournament.
Foote, a former pitcher for the Hoquiam Grizzlies high school baseball team, passed away on that fateful day nearly six-and-a-half years ago.
While dealing with the loss of their son, who was just 17 years-old at the time of his passing, a family friend approached them with the idea of starting a memorial tournament.
“It was Dave Hinchen that came up with the idea because Aaron loved baseball,” said Aaron’s mother, Joan Chapin, adding Hinchen coached Aaron in the local Babe Ruth League. “It was hard at first, because (I thought), ‘Do I want to come back to this field.’ The first couple of years it was really hard to come back because this is where we had his celebration of life.”
Setting foot onto what has now become hallowed ground for them, Joan and Aaron’s father, Les Foote, acknowledged that the yearly tournament stirs up a whirlwind of emotions, but that it’s getting easier as time moves on.
“It gets a little easier,” Les said. “Last season was the first season I was even able to coach a team. I started going to baseball games the year before, so it gets easier, but it’s still very emotional. It’s never going to go away.”
“Each year, it seems like the sharpness and roughness around the edges get softened,” Joan said. “More people come together to talk about Aaron and talk about his life and death. I try to focus on the 17 years we had with him and not the last six he’s been gone.”
While the tournament is difficult, emotionally, it is also therapeutic because of its purpose. The tournament also acts as the front end of a fundraising effort that will provide two scholarships to Hoquiam High School seniors this year, with the back-end being a garage sale and car wash fundraiser slated for Aug. 11. And the applications and dollar amounts of said scholarships keep growing each year.
“In the past, we haven’t had many applicants. This year we had nine, and I believe we’re going to get more and more as the years go on,” Les said. “It’s grown tremendously. The first year it was one $500 scholarship. Two or three years later, it was a thousand. This year, we’re doing $1,500 apiece.”
“Even though it’s bittersweet, we’re doing something good,” Joan said. “I cried a lot and then I thought if we’re going to do this it’s a good way to spread the word, keep his memory alive and raise money for scholarships. … It makes my heart happy to help other kids go to college or trade school.”
Today, the scholarship award winners will be announced, providing two additional Grizzlies with an opportunity to further their education. Opportunities which might not have been possible without the tournament.
“This is the best way (to memorialize Aaron),” Joan said. “This is where he lived, right here on the mound. It was his favorite place to be. Under the lights of the stadium. He loved baseball. He used to tell me, ‘I play basketball to get in shape for baseball.’”
And they have no plans of stopping anytime soon, hoping to help further the education of many more students in the future. The tournament, which is run by Hinchen and Rusty Standstipher, raised $2,694 in three days.
Though the pain of Aaron’s loss remains, Joan and Les have no plans of letting up.
“It’s still, to this day, hard. It will always be hard,” Joan said. “But as long as we are able to do it, we’re going to continue to do it. … Even though it’s bittersweet, we’re doing something good.”
“I think this is the best way to honor him,” Les said. “When he was on the field, he was happy.”