ITALY — Italy High School will hold a one day, single elimination Alumni Slow-Pitch Softball Tournament on Sept. 16 to decipher which era of graduates can proclaim themselves kings of Gladiator mountain.
It will also help generate funds for a community friend battling cancer. The games, which will be played during homecoming weekend, are scheduled to begin at 10:00 a.m.
Italy's graduating classes from 1998 to 2017 will compete against each other for a chance to face the state champion 1997 boys basketball team — one of the few in the ISD's history — in the tournament title game.
During the summer, Wallace, Keith Davis, Athletic Director David Weaver and the 1997 team defeated the 2016 regional quarterfinal Gladiators led by Keith Davis, Jr. — son of Davis, a former Dallas Cowboy safety — 59-56 June 2 at George Scott Coliseum.
The argument, though, didn't end with the game's final buzzer. Sparked by a verbal Facebook skirmishes, the classes from the 80s, 90s and 2000s claimed they could better the champions off the court and on the softball field.
"After the basketball game there was a bunch of trash talk from a bunch of different classes wanting to play the 1997 team," chuckled Edwin Wallace, one of the event's organizers and a guard on the state title team. "We were going to do another basketball tournament but they wanted to play two weeks after that game. We were hurting and it was hard for all of us to get back together. Instead, we figured out something else."
The "something else" was a softball game between the 1997 state champions and the 2000 graduating class. The loss and the subsequent state champions' continued undefeated streak didn't dissuade other challengers or lay the matter rest, though.
"Other classes were asking, 'Why does the 2000 class get to play them and we don't?' Everybody wanted to play the champs," Wallace said. "So instead of playing each team, we decided to play a tournament and use it to help someone that's been really good to our community."
That person is Rana Ramirez.
Ramirez, at 37 years old and on Valentine's Day, was diagnosed with invasive triple negative breast cancer She also underwent a bilateral mastectomy, a preventive procedure that removes the entire breast through surgery and received six months costly chemotherapy to eradicate the remainder of the disease.
"It was fast-moving cancer and they wanted to take the aggressive route — which I was all for," Ramirez said. "I wanted to hit it hard so I'd be here to see my kids down the road. I finished my 16 rounds of chemo at the end of June and had the double mastectomy in the middle of July."
There were on and off weeks of infusion that were "draining," "put her down" for days or left her with bone aches and pains.
She is currently on a daily regimen of chemotherapy pills. According to a 2012 article written by the Washington Post, the average cost of oral oncology drugs in the U.S. at the time was between $5,000 and $10,000 for a monthly supply.
Ramirez noted the disease didn't run in her family, despite her extensive research on the subject. It left her without a plan and completely powerless. That, however, is when the community — including athletes from little leaguers to city basketball legends — stepped into help.
"She and her family have been really good to the community. They didn't ask for it, but we wanted to do something nice for her," Wallace said. "Everybody [in the community] jumped on board to help out with the medical bills. The family has always been involved with the sports [teams] and the [Italy Youth Association]. They've always taken kids in and treated them like their own. They look out for them and help out. There's no reason we can't help them when they've always opened their hearts and homes for our kids."
In addition to each era creating a fund to combat care costs, Wallace they will use proceeds from the tournament to soften the financial blow. According to Wallace, returns from the concession stand and a bake sale will be donated to the Rana Ramirez Fund.
They can also be made at the First State Bank at 100 West Main Street in Italy, as well as locations in Ennis and Rice.
Ramirez, who will be only 38 by the time the teams take the field, said the kindness of friends like Wallace as well as strangers, have put a new perspective on life.
"We have some amazing friends and family in our small little town that have been amazing with prayers, support, and help," Ramirez said, choking back tears. "Prayers alone were enough. God answers them and I am living proof he does. We're very blessed to live where we live."
Marcus S. Marion is the sports editor of the Waxahachie Daily Light and Midlothian Mirror. He can be reached by phone at (469) 517-1456 or across social media platforms @MarcusSMarion.