PARRY SOUND – Amid the cheers from fans, two local youths recovering from brain tumours threw the first pitch at the fourth annual Rallying Against Cancer Hardcore (RACH) three-pitch baseball tournament Friday evening.
Watery eyes and wavering smiles dotted many faces of those who stood proudly while the St. Peter’s School children’s choir sang O Canada in both English and French.
The annual tournament began after local resident Rachel Higgins began her own fight with a brain tumour in 2003. The tournament’s name also has a double meaning, standing for Rachel Anne Cecilia Higgins. The young woman lost her cancer battle in 2005, but the tournament has been going strong, raising more than $150,000 in three years, and more than $46,000 this past weekend.
While organizers were hoping to raise $70,000 this year, Joanne Higgins, Rachel’s mom, said she was pleased with how the event turned out.
“It was a good weekend,” said Ms Higgins. “Our numbers were down on Friday, I think because it was so cold. The 32 teams played well and the live music was great. The Dirty Little Swing Thing from Barrie was just awesome. It really was a lot of fun.”
The first place team this year was the Frank Penfold team followed by the Horseshoe Pines Marina team.
Rachel’s uncle, Don O’Neill kicked off the weekend-long event by congratulating the community and RACH tournament volunteers for their continued support.
“As you all know, we’re here to raise money for brain tumour research, but specifically for image guided surgery (at the Princess Margaret Hospital),” said Mr. O’Neill. “It provides real-time imagery, which allows the surgeon to perform the surgery to remove a tumour more effectively. It enables them to get the tumour out and (not do) any damage to the healthy tissue around that tumour. It also benefits the patient. They recover faster and their quality of life while they’re recovering and after going through their treatment is that much better as well. The money that we raise collectively is going to that fantastic cause, thank you very much.”
Kaitlin Unterman, a representative from the Princess Margaret Hospital, said the tournament was just one of over 150 fundraising events held across the province that has raised more than $5 million for the hospital.
“On behalf of the foundation we are absolutely thrilled to welcome the fourth annual RACH tournament into our 2007 fundraising campaign,” said Ms Unterman. “To the RACH committee, donors, sponsors and participants I thank you for your continued support.”
Also on hand to lend their support and play a little baseball were the men and women with the Firefighters of York Region team.
The firefighters met Rachel in December 2004 while she received treatment at the Princess Margaret Hospital and the group grew close to the inspirational young woman, said firefighter Shaun Mitchell.
“We were visiting Rachel on numerous occasions when she came down to Toronto for her treatments and we were invited to the RACH tournament and our first tournament was in 2005,” said Mr. Mitchell. “We dedicated the 2005 calendar to Rachel and we’ve been involved with the tournament since. Our top fundraising event was here in Parry Sound when (her) family went out and basically pre-sold upwards of 350 calendars. Then we came up here and we sat here for literally four hours. We’ve always had really good support here. This community has set a lot of really good records.”
With a Grade 9 Parry Sound High School student David Louch as catcher, Calvin Gasper, 10, threw out the opening pitch Friday.
Last year, just before his 10th birthday, Calvin became severely ill and, following several trips to the hospital, was diagnosed with a brain tumor.
The soft-spoken youth underwent eight-and-a-half hours of surgery using the real-time imagery technology to remove the tumor that had wrapped around his brain stem.
Following his surgery, Calvin went through 32 chemotherapy sessions and spent two months at a children’s recovery hospital in Toronto.
After learning to walk again and suffering though some vision problems, the youth has now had two clean MRI’s and is cancer free.
Calvin said he wanted to be involved with the tournament after going though his own battle with cancer.
“It’s for cancer and I wanted to help,” he said simply.