By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes
Alee Banuelos combined two of her passions when coming up with her senior service project at Blanchet Catholic School: softball and fighting cancer.
Banuelos and companion Lauren Kessel, who joined her on the project, hail from Keizer, but the they’re hoping to spread news of their Strike Out Cancer softball tournament spreads far and wide.
Three of Banuelos’s four grandparents died after battles with cancer as did one of her softball coaches, but it was going to a national softball tournament when she was 13 that left the most indelible mark.
“There was a girl there who got sick during the tournament and she was diagnosed with cancer a week after the tournament,” Banuelos said. “She was never able to play again and died two years later. There were 80 teams there and it could have been any one of us.”
As the young athlete battled her terminal diagnosis, softball tournaments were held in her honor and Banuelos took a page from that chapter in her life when devising a service project. She and Kessel are organizing a 24-team softball tournament, silent auction and kids’ carnival slated for April 26 and 27 at Wallace Marine Park in Salem. All proceeds from the event will benefit the Leukemia Lymphoma Society (LLS) and the Children’s Cancer Association (CCA).
Kessel also lost family members to different forms of cancer, but it was a Keizer boy who inspired her to get involved with Banuelos’s project.
“My brother was a teammate of Chris Holt and we got involved with reconditioning the Whiteaker baseball field that’s named after him and the fallen angels memorial at Keizer Little League Park,” Kessel said. Holt was a Keizer Little League player who lost a battle with leukemia.
Banuelos and Kessel are still signing up sponsors for the event, but Michael’s and Home Depot have already chipped in time and supplies for event.
“People have really taken to our cause. We’ve even had the tournament mentioned on two radio stations,” Banuelos said.
Banuelos said she chose LLS and CCA because of her familiarity with them through her mother’s work at an oncology clinic.
“People don’t need to come out and make a big donation,” said Kessel. “They can show their support, jut by showing up at the tournament to watch.”
Banuelos and Kessel are still seeking volunteers, items for the silent auction and business sponsors. To inquire about any of the opportunities, contact them at Strikeoutcancersoftball@aol.com or through their Facebook page, www.facebook.com/Strikeoutcancersoftballtournament.
“I don’t think I realized how much people would respond to our cause. I think walking away with $10 would be a benefit, but this got really big really quick,” Banuelos said.