The annual Cody Classic ball tournament celebrated a milestone this past weekend. The 18-team softball tournament held at Waldon Park and Evans Field marked its 25th year of raising money for Cowichan Valley families facing childhood cancer.
In 1999, after Wes Swain’s four-year-old son Cody was diagnosed with cancer, the folks Wes played ball with held a small tournament to raise money for the family. It meant so much to the Swains that they kept the tournament going — for more than two decades now.
“It’s a big year and it’s a good cause,” said Duncan Junior Baseball Association president Tina Cornett, who is not only instrumental in helping to organize the massive event each year, but who also plays on the hodgepodge team dubbed the Mixed Bags in the event.
“Years ago we kind of threw a team together and called it the Mixed Bags and that’s what we’ve always been,” she said with a chuckle.
Steadfast in their support of the Swains and other Cowichan families facing similar struggles, the tournament has developed a group of devotees, like the Mixed Bags, who can be counted on to play year in and year out.
“We’re not all dealt the same hand in life,” Swain explained. He noted the event, while a ball tournament, is also a lesson in being aware of what your neighbours are going through and lending a helping hand when you can.
“Giving money is one thing, but getting out there and raising it is another,” Swain noted.
“These people come out to raise money,” he said. “The people that come here are the average working people in this valley that understand the reality of what curveballs life can give you and they just try and help their neighbours.”
Who wins, who loses, it doesn’t really matter. It’s who can be helped that’s important.
Hundreds of thousands of dollars have been handed out, to as many as five new families a year. Cornett said the Cody Classic raised about $75,000 last year.
“It always has meant something to me,” she explained. “I always said I wanted to raise a lot of money but I didn’t ever want to have to be on the receiving end.
“But we were,” she added.
Cornett said for years her team has had their kids out running the bases every now and then during the family friendly Classic but last year her son Simon, then 16, played the entire tournament for the first time.
Seven days later Simon was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and was enduring his own cancer treatment.
“I had no idea that my kid even had cancer,” Cornett said. “He played in the tournament with us last year and I had no idea he was even sick.”
This year, Cornett and Simon were back in action, both suiting up yet again for the Mixed Bags. But not before Simon threw out the ceremonial first pitch.
“It was special before he got sick, it’s just got a different meaning now,” Cornett said.
Now 17, Simon has completed treatment and is back to school with his peers this month and trying to get on with his life.
“We’re home and he does go back every three months for checkups and we just have to be happy in between those,” she said. “That’s part of our new life.”
As for Cody Swain, he’s 29 now and doing well, said his dad, noting Cody graduated this year from UBC.
It’s been a long road to get there, though.
“He’s been hard at it,” Wes said. “If you think you’re exempt from childhood cancer you live in a different world,” he added. “We do this to help families; of course but it’s bittersweet at times. The older I get the more emotional I get about it because not every child beats this thing.”