DANVILLE — It was VETSports first year in Danville in 2012 as they took part in the long-running Finest vs. Bravest annual charity softball game. This year, they’re back and ready to win some games.
VETSports took the place of the Wounded Warriors veterans team, which came to Danville in 2011. B.T. Urruela, then a member of the Wounded Warriors, came back last year as part of VETSports and is returning again this year for the event.
Urruela is vice president of VETSports and sits on the board of the directors. Despite having lost part of his right leg, Urruela also is a pitcher for the team.
“We’ll bring more competition” this year, Urruela said, adding the team finished its last games in Houston “looking good.”
The VETSports team is comprised of veterans and active duty soldiers who have been injured since 9/11 while serving their country. Last year’s 11-member team included seven amputees, including the catcher, the first- and second-basemen and another infielder.
In past years, police officers and firefighters have squared off against each other for the annual softball games, which have taken place for almost a decade now. It expanded to injured veterans teams two years ago and continues with the three-game series beginning at 5 p.m. Saturday at Danville Stadium.
“It has grown every year,” said Danville Police Officer Jason Dunavan, an event coordinator.
Admission is free but donations will be accepted at the doors. Each year, the event raises money for various charities. Programs funded by past Finest vs. Bravest Charity Softball games include the Friendly Town program, AMBUCS and the Muscular Dystrophy Association.
This year, the event is focusing on assisting two Vermilion County residents, Kim Pasley and Alex McMahon, in their individual battles with cancer. McMahon, then 22, was diagnosed with nasopharyngeal cancer in May 2011. Pasley was 29 years old when she was first diagnosed with breast cancer and has dealt with two bouts since that time.
Pasley, who lives in Danville, had her second mastectomy in January and continues to travel to Indianapolis with her husband, Shawn, for treatments. McMahon, of Westville, was a member of the McKendree University football team when diagnosed and has since returned to school and the team. He continues to receive chemotherapy.
In addition to Danville emergency personnel, there will be a local addition on the VetSports team as well. Dunavan said Oakwood resident Jason Wills, a member of the U.S. Army who suffered a head injury, will be in the dugout with other veterans for this year’s games.
Dunavan said he reached out to Wills with the offer through Facebook and heard back from him quickly.
“When he called me back, I could hear through the phone how excited he was,” Dunavan said.
“We wanted to include someone local,” Urruela noted.
As with previous years, the evening will feature three games with the police team taking on VetSports as well as firefighters taking a shot at the team. The firefighters and police teams will also square off.
Gates open at 3 p.m. Saturday, followed immediately by batting practice and then a home run derby at 4 p.m. A K9 demonstration will be featured during one intermission while a speed painting will be done by John Janesky during the other. The painting will be sold by silent auction, with the high bidder named following the third game.
Dunavan said the evening will end with a fireworks display at the stadium.
To kick off the event, an escort of the VETSports team featuring Patriot Guard and American Legion motorcycle riders will leave Danville Area Community College at 2:40 p.m., Dunavan said. The escort will travel through the Veterans Affairs Illiana Health Care System campus before proceeding west on East Main to South Gilbert Street, where it will continue south to Danville Stadium.
The event is hosted by Danville Police Association Charitable Organization and Danville Firefighters Local 429 in partnership with Doug Barnette and Family.
FYI A meet and greet fundraiser is scheduled throughout the day and evening Thursday at El Toro Restaurant, 619 S. Gilbert St. Twenty percent of the sales that night will go toward the Finest vs. Bravest charity softball game. Donation forms will be available at the restaurant. VETSports players will be there from 7-9 p.m. Thursday.