The La Grande High School softball team has become known for its success on the field the last three years, but over the weekend, the Tigers hit a home run off the field.

The team took time to visit with residents at Grande Ronde Retirement Residence Saturday in an afternoon that impacted both residents and players alike.

“We just enjoy it,” resident Carolyn Howard said. “It’s really neat to get to know them individually.”

LHS head coach Woody Wright said Saturday’s visit falls within the team’s core values, which includes giving back to the community, and it is a way for the team to have an effect beyond the softball field.

“It’s more than just the game, and that’s what we’re trying to look at,” Wright said as his players visited with several residents at the retirement residence in southeast La Grande. “At the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about.”

Wright said while the team may be having ample on-field success, the impression made by events like Saturday will last much longer.

“These are the things they’re really going to take with them,” he said.

Senior Kara Gooderham said she was excited for the visit from the moment she learned the team was going to go, and the fervor didn’t wane.

“It wasn’t something we’ve always done (but) it got our team out there, got us involved and gave us an opportunity to connect with people in the community,” she added.

The players stopped to visit with several residents who were in the downstairs lobby, some conversations lasting a few minutes and others much longer. At one end of the lobby, players knelt down or sat next to residents to ask them about their lives and what they used to do, and in turn exchanged their own tales or talk about the softball team. Across the way, Howard sat down and started playing the piano, with players Hayden Robinson and Presley Justice — and eventually a larger group — seemingly entranced by the melody that came from the piano keys.

Meanwhile, resident Joe Kenny talked with, and later placed a kiss on the hands of, two players who stopped to speak with him.

“It’s always good to see (people from the community),” Kenny said.

Later, several players made additional social trips through the building, including getting a chance to view the cartoon cutouts crafted by Dan Kramer, a resident who uses a bandsaw to cut out images of iconic characters and then paints them.

“They were going to see those residents who can’t get out (of their rooms) and visit them,” said Activities Assistant Denise Wheeler. “Some even went back to say goodbye.”

The conversations inspired sophomore Sophie Bell, who said she would return to the residence in the future. Bell was one of the players who ventured beyond the lobby.

“I went into one of the resident’s rooms, her name was Marilyn, and it was really nice to see the way her face lit up,” she said. “It was really good to talk to her, and I know it made her feel better to see us. (She was) saying, ‘I don’t want you to leave.’”

Senior Lexee Gomes also left feeling blessed by the experience.

“I loved it,” she said. “It’s fun to brighten up people’s days when you know they don’t have a lot of people to talk to. They told us we made their day several times.”

Gooderham said that kind of outreach is something that should be done more often and by every sports team.

“It showed me we have a lot to be thankful for, and we should all try to take that extra (time) to give back to other people,” she said. “It means more to them than we can imagine.”

Gomes added this kind of outreach is especially important after the show of support the team has recently received.

“Since I’ve played softball we haven’t done this much fundraising, so when you get this much money it’s important to give back to your community and think of the people who donated money,” she said, listing other areas the team has stepped up. “Being involved in the Little League parade (for example), I don’t think our team realizes how big an impact that has on the little kids and the community.”

See complete story in Wednesday's Observer

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