The day of the fourth annual Drake Widener Tournament, the rain poured down but stopped before the memorial and fundraiser event began. In the last two years of the tournament, it has rained.
“We always joke by saying it’s Drake, and he’s mad because he can’t play with everybody,” said Bonnie Widener, the mother of Drake Widener.
Drake Widener died in a car accident in 2016, at the age of 19. Widener was a 2014 graduate of Thomson High School and had played on the school’s baseball team as a pitcher and an outfielder. After his death, the Widener family created a tournament to memorialize Drake Widener and raise money for those in need and students. The tournament typically raises thousands of dollars for scholarships to team members of the Diamond Dogs, but has also raised money for cancer patients, victims of house fires, and others. This year, a portion of the funds will go to the family of Ashley Reed, 35, and her 13-year-old daughter Summer Matherly, Thomson residents who died in a Wilkinson County wreck on July 15. Skipper Widener said the point of the tournament has been to help others. And in each year, Bonnie Widener said it has had success in that goal.
“It’s overwhelming and humbling that after many years, [the community] comes out and supports us,” she said.
“I feel like every year has been stronger or just as strong,” Skipper Widener said. “What reminds us the most [of our son] is that he liked to have a good time, [and] he liked to help people. That’s what this is about.”
If her son could see the tournament, Bonnie Widener said he would of thought positively of it.
“He loved people and loved being around people,” she said. “Drake lives on through us being able to help people in the community and through college. We feel like he’s here.”
Among the teams in the tournament, the Backyard Boys played in one of the first few fields of Sweetwater Park during the event. Team Captain Chris Rud said the team has supported the tournament from year one. Many of the team knew and had grown up with Drake Widener, he said. Will Tankersley, a 26-year-old Thomson resident, said he went to school with Drake Widener and played ball with him.
“He was a great kid, always made you laugh,” he said.
When he comes to the tournament, he said he has fun and gets a comfortable feeling.
“It feels like I’m at home. Everybody is home,” he said.
This feeling, he said, comes from the fact that he, like many at the tournament, knew Drake Widener.