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  • RANDY ALLEN / Special to The Bee

    Breast cancer survivor Caryn Carlson is the wife of Elk Grove High baseball coach Jeff Carlson. She threw out a first pitch at last week's Albie Swingin' for Life.

  • RANDY ALLEN / Special to The Bee

    Games at the Albie Swingin' for Life baseball showcase featured pink bases. "It's amazing how this has grown," event coordinator Chris Fahey said.

  • JOSÉ LUIS VILLEGAS / Bee file, 2011

    An Army parachutist lands on Del Oro High's football field as part of last fall's Battle at the Capital. The showcase, now known as Battle for Veterans, benefits support programs and services for wounded veterans and their families.

  • Randy Allen Special to The Bee At the Albie Swingin' for Life benefit, baseball players donned pink wristbands as a show of support for breast cancer survivors.

Pitching in for a cause: High school sports step up as fundraisers

Published: Thursday, May. 3, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 1C
Last Modified: Thursday, May. 3, 2012 - 9:28 am

With one major showcase per season, high school sports in the Sacramento region have taken to a bigger stage and served as a rallying point for a larger cause.

Last fall, the Battle at the Capital (since renamed Battle for Veterans) in Loomis featured host Del Oro and other teams, including state power Westlake of Westlake Village, to kick off the football season over two days.

The event was successful enough that it's expanding to two weekends this fall – in Placer County and Southern California – with more big matchups and bigger proceeds to assist wounded veterans and their families.

In the winter, the Common Good Classic at Antelope High features top area girls and boys basketball teams that help raise money for emancipated foster teens.

And last Saturday at Sacramento City College, eight area baseball teams competed in the fourth annual Albie Swingin' for Life, which raised a little more than $10,000 for cancer awareness and research.

Although seven participants were ranked in The Bee's Top 20 baseball poll, the event – like the other showcases – transcended sports.

"It's not about you or us," Antelope baseball coach Javy Valdivia told his players before meeting Franklin. "People are here to see baseball, but this is really to support survivors."

Breast cancer survivors, some related to players in the games, tossed out ceremonial first pitches.

As a show of support, players wore pink wristbands, bases were painted pink and the umpires, who donated their time, wore pink shirts.

Antelope donated $350 to the Albie Carson Breast Cancer Foundation, a local organization founded in the name of Albie Carson, a St. Francis High alum, who died of breast cancer in 2002.

The event has raised nearly $35,000 to help with, among numerous things, health screenings, tests and doctor visits to those who can't afford them.

For Elk Grove, it's personal

Breast cancer survivor Caryn Carlson has thrown out the first pitch of Albie Swingin' for three consecutive seasons. The wife of Elk Grove baseball coach Jeff Carlson, Caryn said such events are an ideal way to raise awareness, especially with 2.6 million breast cancer survivors in the United States.

Caryn Carlson was the initial cancer survivor to throw out a first pitch Saturday, calming the nerves of those who followed.

"They said they were nervous, and I reminded them, 'Hey, you're a survivor! You've made it,' " Carlson said smiling. " 'This is a first pitch. Enjoy it.' "

Many players approached event coordinator Chris Fahey, Jesuit's athletic director, to thank him for the invitation and experience, all wearing Albie T-shirts.

"It's amazing how this has grown," said Fahey. "Like in football and basketball, these showcases are becoming all the rage."

Fahey has added one game each year, with the first Albie benefit featuring one game between Jesuit and Christian Brothers. He hopes to eventually add enough games to hold events at American River College and Sacramento City. There also are plans to hold a similar softball event.

"You hear these stories of what women go through and the courage they show in fighting breast cancer, and how can you not help?" Fahey said. "We also saw this as a great educational tool for our students – how athletics can be a platform for helping people."

Teens helping teens

Brad Swope envisioned a similar benefit when he started the Common Good Classic six years ago.

Held each January, the Common Good raises money to help emancipated foster teens as they battle homelessness, unemployment, pregnancy and incarceration.

"We love the chance to show our passion for basketball while we pour every dime into an under-served population," Swope said. "I came from a two-parent home, and I can't imagine being 18 and by myself.

"If you don't have a good support system, it's easy to make bad decisions."

The first five Common Good events raised $60,000, money that has helped teens with college scholarships, housing costs and other issues, Swope said.

Swope said because of the uncertainty of a new Sac–Joaquin Section playoff format that has many schools front-loading their schedules in December, the next Common Good event – Jan. 19, 2013, at Antelope High – will be limited to one day and six games instead of the usual two-day, 10-game slate.

Perennial playoff teams – Antelope, Center, Foothill, Bella Vista and Franklin boys and the Del Oro and St. Francis girls – are scheduled to play.

"We expect to go back to the two days for (2014)," Swope said. "But we're pretty happy with our (current) field."

'Battle' getting bigger

While Swope is downsizing his event for a year, Battle for Veterans organizer Mark Soto has expanded his football showcase to two weekends and hundreds of miles apart.

Westlake, Oaks Christian of Westlake Village and Thousand Oaks will open the 2012 season the weekend of Aug. 24-25 at Del Oro High School.

Oaks Christian plays defending Division III section champion Del Oro the first night. The next day, Thousand Oaks plays Franklin and Westlake will face defending D-I section champion Granite Bay.

The following weekend, Westlake will host the second leg of the showcase.

On Aug. 31, Westlake will play Del Oro and Oceanside from San Diego County will face Oakdale. On Sept. 1, Upland will play Windsor of the North Bay and Oaks Christian will meet Granite Bay.

In addition to complementary youth, freshmen, junior varsity and law enforcement games – there will be 32 total games – the event will include ceremony dinners, military expos, parachute jumps and flyovers. Proceeds will go to support programs and services for wounded veterans and their families.

"Last year was a learning experience," Soto said of the two-day event that drew nearly 12,000 fans but only broke even at the box office.

"We've already gotten more sponsorships, and the amount of support we're getting from the communities here and in Southern California is incredible."

Soto said he has put his heart into the event to pay tribute to his military sons, Joshua and Benjamin, who have been deployed to war zones.

"I saw what my sons were doing and how committed they were to serving our country and, as a father, I was just looking for a way to help," Soto said.

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