LITTLETON — Linda Sanders wore her Columbine softball t-shirt and hat as she received plenty of hugs on Thursday.
“This community all pulled together in 1999,” Sanders said. “I think it’s great that they get little reminders now and again. The students are growing up remembering them.”
Sanders, widow of former Columbine High School teacher and coach, was on hand to throw out the first pitch of the annual Dave Sanders Memorial Softball Tournament. Columbine and Lakewood had organized the 16-team tournament for years and renamed the tournament for Dave Sanders after the tragic school shooting on April 20, 1999.
Dave Sanders saved many lives that tragic day by warning students of the shooters before suffering mortal wounds.
“Sometimes it feels like yesterday that it happened. Other days it seems like a long time ago. The reminders sometimes are trying, but at times like this it’s beautiful,” Linda Sanders said before throwing out the first pitch before the opening game of the three-day tournament. “He didn’t like to be in the spotlight. I don’t think he even realized that he was becoming a hero when he did what he did because he loved all of his students just the same.”
With 18 years having passed since the horrible day at Columbine High School, the memories and stories about the type of person Dave Sanders was is still a priority for the Rebels’ community. Sanders coached Columbine’s girls basketball and softball programs with Columbine colleague Rick Bath for several years.
Bath and former Lakewood softball coach Ray Baker has organized the annual tournament that concludes Saturday at Aurora Sports Park. Athletic directors Scott Christy (Columbine) and Michael Hughes (Lakewood) are now heavily involved in the tournament that draws Class 5A and 4A teams from Grand Junction, Pueblo, Colorado Springs, Brighton and Denver Metro Area.
Bear Creek, Columbine, D’Evelyn and Lakewood playing in the tournament this year gives a good Jeffco flavor. However, Baker and Bath as had a focus of getting a field that is geography spread out to have a state flavor to it. It also gives teams a chance to play at the venue that host the 5A, 4A and 3A state tournaments in October.
“I think its a great tournament on his behalf. He gave so much to softball, kids and education,” D’Evelyn coach Dan Porreco said of Dave Sanders. “We love coming back here every year. As time goes on sometime we forget things and what people meant to the sport.”
With the girls playing in the 40 tournament games having not even being born back in 1999, the decision was made four years ago to have the first game of the tournament held at Columbine High School at Dave Sanders Memorial Softball Field.
“I think having the first game on Dave Sanders Field and recognizing his memory, his legacy, and his family is incredibly important and is a terrific tradition,” Christy said. “Dave Sanders was a man who loved Columbine and gave his life at the school and it is incredibly important to remember this great man on an annual basis. Our softball team honors him on a daily basis as his initials DS are on the back of their jerseys.”
Baker, who guided Lakewood to back-to-back 4A softball state championship titles in 1997 and 1998, recalled how Sanders and Bath stayed to watch and support the Tigers during the 1998 4A title game played in Grand Junction. Columbine had lost its 5A state semifinal game by a run to Bear Creek.
“They were the kind of guys who would help you if they could, unless you were playing them,” Baker said. “Both (Bath and Sanders) of them were good role models for me because I hadn’t coached nearly as long as they had been coaching. They were great examples of how you should treat kids.”
Sanders actually coached several of Baker’s players during the summer in the 1990s.
“It didn’t matter who they played for or how they played. He (Sanders) was just that type of guy,” Baker said. “Dave was kind of a renaissance man in high school sports. He had the easy way of a guy who never had a bad day.”
Baker believes the tradition of the Dave Sanders Memorial Softball Tournament will keep going strong do in part to the strong relationship between Columbine and Lakewood high schools, along with the desire to keep the memory of Dave Sanders alive.
“I think we need to can keep the history of what Dave was about and what he meant to high school teaching and athletics,” Baker said. “I think that’s important.”