The inaugural Chris Collins Wiffle Ball Tournament last year was a home run, and tournament organizers are hoping for a grand slam in year two. The tournament will be held Aug. 10 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Tuckertown Park in South Kingstown.
The event serves as the primary fundraiser for the Chris Collins Foundation, which aims to shine a light on mental illness in schools and the community in honor of its namesake, a South Kingstown native who died last year at the age of 20. Thirty-two teams took part last summer and the hope is to double that number this year.
“We had 32 teams, about 250 people there, either playing or watching,” said Mark Collins, Chris’ father. “A lot of Chris’ former teammates came back. Last year, we had Little Leaguers, baseball moms, a lot of softball guys who came in their jerseys, college-level baseball kids. Overall, it was just a lot of fun. All the feedback we got was it was a great event, a lot of fun. Everybody was looking forward to doing it again.”
Justin Hayes, who played baseball with Chris in youth leagues and at South Kingstown High School, came up with the idea last year, though he had to keep tabs on the event from afar as he started a year-long internship in Spain. He’ll be back in town this year and is eager to see the turnout in person.
“Just hearing about it, over 200 people showing up on a Saturday in the summer, to celebrate Chris’ life but also to show their support for such a touchy subject that probably affected most of the people there, themselves or their family members. That’s just amazing from that point of view,” Hayes said. “But also for the Collins family – in the face of absolute tragedy, their willingness to be open with all of these people, to put themselves out there and try to make an impact. They found purpose in absolute tragedy. That’s just a beautiful thing and I think it inspired a lot of people. I expect more and more people to be there this year. It’ll continue to grow and it’s going to be a really beautiful thing to see.”
All ages are welcome for the tournament. Teams can have as few as three players or as many as five. There is a $100 registration fee per team. Each participant will receive a T-shirt and two raffle tickets. Registration can be completed online at chriscollinsfound
Proceeds from the tournament benefit the foundation, which the Collins family started soon after Chris’ death. Chris had battled depression and anxiety, but the family came to find out that he was a pillar of support for a lot of people in similar fights, despite his own struggles. That sparked them to try to carry on that spirit.
The foundation sought to bring a peer-to-peer model for mental health awareness and dialogue to local schools. South Kingstown High School and Narragansett High School utilized the program this past school year, as did the middle schools in those towns.
“It was a great success,” Mark Collins said. “The kids in each school who were the peer mentors and who were trained for the program, built awareness campaigns for their schools and then rolled the campaigns out and basically reached everyone in the school. They did a really tremendous job.”
The program will continue in those schools, with possible expansion to North Kingstown, Chariho, Westerly and Prout.
“A lot of these schools have really great programs in relation to mental health, but sometimes a teenager isn’t all that apt to listen to a well-meaning adult,” Collins said. “But when the information is coming from their peers, sometimes it strikes a chord in that fashion. These students are setting the tone in the school. For them to be learning about and sharing information about mental illnesses is really important. The peer mentors, I think they were really excited to be a part of it and I think they recognize how important the issue is.
“To learn it is a disease – It’s not a weakness or a character flaw – I think they were excited to learn more about that and share that with their friends.”
Resources and information will be provided at the tournament, as well, and this year, Healthy Bodies, Healthy Minds of Washington County is on board as a sponsor. The group is currently working on a zero suicide initiative, raising awareness and working with health professionals on procedures.
“We’ll have some tables with a lot of educational information,” Collins said. “People sharing information and resources – that’s as important as the tournament.”
“It’s unbelievable the amount of people that just really want to help,” Hayes said. “It really is a community effort. And I hope that gives hope to anybody who is feeling depressed or anxious, that all these people are willing to give up their time because they really want to help people. The best thing to do is to get professional help, but there’s also a community behind them ready to support.”
And that community will be playing a little Wiffle Ball on Aug. 10. Hayes is looking forward to taking some swings and to getting the competitive juices flowing.
“We have a decent team this year,” he said. “Hopefully we can win it.”