Playing on for Mick
HOLLIDAYSBURG — Dawn Focht grew up twirling baton, so it was only natural that her daughter, Mikayla, who was 7 at the time, would be put into the same activity as a youngster.
There was one problem with that, Mick (as Mikayla was known to many), wanted no part of it.
“She said, ‘I don’t like it, I don’t like it,”‘ Jamie Focht said of his daughter.
However, mom and dad, weren’t letting her off that easy.
“Dawn said that she had to wait until she did a parade. So, she did a Relay for Life — actually in Bellwood,” Jim reminisced. “Mikayla said, ‘Mom, I’m not built like those other girls. I don’t want to do this anymore.'”
The ride home from the parade was one that changed all three of them.
“We came driving right past Legion Park, and there was a sign that said softball sign-ups. She said, ‘Dad, can you teach me to play softball?’
“I said, ‘We’ll get started as soon as we get home.”‘
“He (Jamie) got a smile, and I got a frown,” Dawn said about Mick wanting to play softball. “That’s OK, though. It all turned out.”
From her first practice, it was clear that Mikayla had the natural, God-given talent and feel for the game.
“She knew, and we knew, the very first time she went to a practice. It was like, ‘Wow, this kid is really special,”’ Jamie said. “I didn’t even really give her much instruction at that point. She’s just throwing the ball, fielding it and hitting it.
“From right then and there, she just absolutely loved it. The love for the game just kept growing. The more she played, the more she wanted to play. You hear people say about young athletes a lot of times get burned out. We literally would have to tell her, that’s enough practice for today. You have to take a break.”
While that day changed the Focht’s schedule for the next 11 years; it was a tragic day on April 14 that changed their lives forever.
In the early morning hours that Friday, Mikayla, who was a passenger on an ATV, was killed in an accident on Knob Road in Blue Knob.
Within weeks, Dawn and Jamie set up a memorial scholarship fund in their daughter’s name to help honor her life.
“The goal of the scholarship fund is we want to pick the most athletic softball player in District 6 that’s going to college and hand them a scholarship,” Jamie said. “And we want to take another player and help them in whatever they might need help.”
That’s when Jim Payne, who coached Focht in travel ball, stepped in and suggested holding a tournament as well.
“Jim took the bull by the horns and got this started,” Jamie said. “He reached out, and the outpouring was unbelievable. He literally had been turning teams away for a good while, because we were out of fields.”
At this point, the 4Mick 4TheGame Memorial Scholarship Softball Tournament was born.
“We came up with the idea, Brenda Johnsobaugh and myself kind of spearheaded this knowing that we had to do something,” Payne said. “They started the scholarship program and put money into it, and we thought what a better way to really add to that scholarship fund by doing something that’s pretty obvious — playing softball for Mikayla.”
The final tally for the three-field tournament at Legion Park was six teams at the 18U level, four at 16U and eight at 14U. In addition, an alumni game was played as the late game Saturday evening.
Saturday started off with pool play action with each team getting three games. Play resumed on Sunday with a single-elimination format.
Since every single cent given or donated goes into the fund, it was that much more important when everyone started donating their time, concession supplies and anything else possible.
“Everything you see here — everything was donated and volunteered,” Payne said. “This is a pretty profitable event for us.”
Pretty amazing and somewhat hard to believe considering the entire tournament got off the ground and up and running just about five weeks ago.
“We did this about five weeks ago. We recognized we had an opening in our schedule for some travel ball teams, and the power of Facebook put it out there and we got a big response,” Payne said.
“I texted Jim right away (after hearing about the tournament),” Central PA Wildcats coach Phil Barroner said. “I would always want to be a part of this. It’s a terrible reason why we’re here — it’s a tragic reason, but we just wanted to help in any way we can.”
However, the goal is to expand the annual tournament to as many teams as possible in the future years.
“We’ll make it as big as we can,” Payne said. “We’ll use every field in Altoona if we can. We can grow this thing. People want to rally behind the great cause that this is. This was a tragic thing. I said in the beginning, ‘I hate why we’re here, but I love that we are here.'”
Softball is known as a community whether it be travel ball teams or scholastic teams competing. That community comes together, whether they are rivals on the field or not, to help each other out.
“It’s been nothing but positive,” Payne said. “Going forward, that was kind of the gauging thing (how the response would be) if we needed to find another way to create more for this fund. But this is what we’re going to stick with. Moving forward, we want to try to have as many of these as possible.”
That community seemed to all echo the same sentiment that the tournament was a great success and that the overall atmosphere and play was top notch.
“We couldn’t have asked for a better weekend weather-wise. The turnout, the community supporting us. We couldn’t have asked for anything else,” Dawn Focht said.
“I look at this day as it’s a bittersweet day. Our Krunch Gold team is at Virginia Beach this weekend, and we would have done anything to be there (watching Mikayla play) versus here. It was a bittersweet day, and we’ll keep her memory alive.”
It is often said when one passes, that their impact on others or something in particular, is often not known until they are gone.
The same thing, to the fullest extent, can be said about Mikayla.
“I don’t think she realized how many people she truly impacted (through softball). We didn’t even know. Until Jim said about the tournament being filled up (with teams). The T-shirts they have for sale up there, they ordered 100 — they were sold out before (the tournament) even started. They have probably eight-plus notebook pages of T-shirts to order.”
While on the other hand, she made a huge impact while she was still playing the game she loved.
“I had so much fun playing with Mick for the one year we did play together, and I also thoroughly enjoyed playing against her for many years before we played on the same team,” Hannah Shields, a Krunch Gold teammate, said. “Mikayla was the most competitive player I have ever seen on the field, but at the same time, she never quit smiling while she was playing. That’s how much she loved the game — she was able to do both at the same time.”
Shields, a State College graduate who recently completed her freshman year playing at Delaware State University, said that Mikayla’s energy was also contagious as well.
“She played with so much energy, whether it was doing drills in practice, preparing before games or playing the actual game. You couldn’t help but be energized yourself just by being around her.”
Saint Francis University, where Mick had signed a letter of intent to continue her athletic career, played a huge part in the weekend as coaches did their part in helping out, and even players came down to help umpire games.
While the goal was clear, the weekend did crown three champions as Winning Edge defeated Philipsburg Hurricanes, 4-2, in the 14U title game, Coal Country Heat beat Cove Fire, 5-4, in walk-off fashion in the 16U game, and Central PA Wolfpack edged out the Keystone Krushers, 2-1, in the 18U game.
“(We registered) as soon as I heard about it,” Winning Edge 14U coach Aaron Frederick said. “My daughter actually played with Mick a little bit last year up here (Legion Park) in the league ball. I just wanted to come here and celebrate her.”
The Fochts laughed when talking about the hectic life that a travel team player and parents get themselves into.
“One thing about it, is travel ball is a lifestyle. I always told the Krunch team that we are softball gypsies. You roll into town, you spread your stuff out and play, you gather it back up and you’re off to another town,” Jamie said.
“It was so bad when we were traveling. You’d come home late Sunday night (from one tournament). You’d have Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday then you’re repacking,” Dawn said. “We didn’t even unpack suitcases. Just keep them in your room and give me your dirty clothes. We enjoyed it, though.”
That seems to be the way that any and all travel teams (regardless of the sport) roll. And even though this tournament was definitely not just another tournament to everyone that participated, most of the teams will do exactly what the Fochts did for many years — pack up and prepare to head somewhere else next weekend.
Such is the life of a softball family — you remember and enjoy the good times, but you keep moving on.
“It’s healing through the game that we love and we know that she loved,” Jamie said.