Brown, Arnold, GJ Chamber latest JUCO Home Run Alley Heroes
For more than 50 years, scores of dedicated Grand Junction residents have contributed to the sport of baseball as a whole and the Alpine Bank Junior College World Series in particular.
Three, however, were singled out Wednesday as having contributed above and beyond.
Carma Brown, the program director for Challenger Little League, Daily Sentinel Sports Editor Patti Arnold and the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce will become Home Run Alley Heroes next week.
Their names will hang on baseball-shaped signs in the left-field bleachers and they’ll be recognized before Wednesday’s 7:30 p.m. game. The first class was honored in 2005.
The honorees were chosen by the JUCO tournament’s six executive committee members.
Brown introduced the Challenger Program into the JUCO World Series in 2004 and it has become a yearly tradition.
“Carma is a special person,” JUCO Chairman Jamie Hamilton said. “The program gives us great notoriety as a committee because of the event she brought to us. The impact of the Challenger Program is taken to the teams’ hometowns and introduced there.”
The Challenger Program provides special-needs children a venue to play baseball with the assistance of buddies.
Two JUCO teams each year participate in a game the Thursday evening before the tournament.
“From the beginning of Challenger, I wanted to incorporate playing on the field or having JUCO players,” Brown said. “I didn’t want there to be a distraction, but I thought we could make it work.”
The teams are quick to agree to be a part of the game.
“We had to find someone to ask the first time,” said Brown, who chose Pensacola (Fla.) Community College coach Bill Hamilton. “I literally went to him because his last name was Hamilton. I called him and he said, ‘Absolutely.’
“(New Mexico JC coach Ray) Birmingham had such a great experience, he took it back to his district and told them about it. They decided as a district, whoever qualifies would participate.”
In 2006, former New Mexico assistant coach Jimmy Durham joined the staff at San Jacinto (Texas) College-North. When the Gators qualified for the World Series that year, they wanted to be Challenger buddies.
This year, the Gators made sure Challenger wasn’t short on buddies, even though they didn’t qualify.
“San Jacinto got beat on Tuesday,” Hamilton said. “On Wednesday morning, (Brown) got a text from San Jac telling her Navarro is ready to be buddies and it will go off without a hitch.
“It’s impressive to see teams go at each other one day, then the next day arrange to talk about the Challenger Program.”
Arnold has covered the tournament since 1986 and has represented the media on the committee since the 1990s, serving as information liaison.
“The Daily Sentinel has been a great partner for the last 54 years,” Hamilton said. “We go to them for the history. Patti has been on the committee over 20 years.
“As part of it being the job aspect, I know what she does as a liaison with all the media that needs things done. She’s there 24/7 for us as a great liaison. She gives us an air of professionalism.”
The Daily Sentinel sports staff used to serve as the tournament’s official scorers.
“I hated it,” Arnold said. “I’ve scored baseball games since I was 10 years old, but when you get thrown into a national tournament ... wow. It’s different. There’s some pressure there.”
Arnold sees her role as an advocate for the media.
“After covering this tournament for so many years, you know how it needs to be run for someone to do their job,” she said.
“When you’re not in the media, you don’t understand that. You really do need somebody who understands what we need to do our jobs and at the same time make the tournament look good.”
The Chamber of Commerce was instrumental in bringing the JUCO World Series to Grand Junction under former executive director Dale Hollingsworth. The Chamber has remained involved to this day.
“The chamber is instrumental in providing meeting space for us,” Hamilton said. “They help us sell tickets, they promote to all their members this great event. It’s a great time to recognize their leadership.”
The chamber was one of two original sponsors of the tournament.
“There’s some real august company we’re joining being named to this. It was a surprise when Jamie announced it,” said Diane Schwenke, chamber president and CEO. “My first thought was Dale Hollingsworth is probably grinning, because he would always remind everybody the role the chamber played to bringing JUCO here to start with.”
Hollingsworth was on the JUCO committee from its start until his death in 2006.
Schwenke recalled one parent who was traveling to the tournament by herself and how a staff member helped her throughout the week.
“This staff person probably had at least a half-dozen phone calls assuring her how welcoming this community was, how her son’s team was going to be adopted by a service club and went so far to actually sit with this mother (at the games),” Schwenke said.
“Those things have happened over the course of 50 years. I’m sure there are other stories like that through the tournament’s history. That’s what makes the tournament a premier event for everyone.”