Out of unspeakable tragedy has come an outpouring of support and sympathy for the tiny, close-knit community of Uvalde, Texas, which this week was the site of the second-deadliest school shooting in U.S. history, in which 19 fourth-grade students and two teachers were gunned down in their classrooms.
In addition to being sons and daughters, sisters and brothers, children far too young to experience such horrific violence, several of the victims were athletes, and it was this connection that enabled the Canby Rebels, the local youth fastpitch organization, to bridge a 2,000-mile gap between their two communities and make a positive impact.
When Rebels coach James Heckathorn learned that four of the victims — Tess Marie Mata, Alexandria Aniyah Rubio, Eliahana Cruz Torres and Makenna Elrod — were Little League softball players, the first bud of an idea began to take shape.
“It came from a place of us wanting to do something productive from so far away,” Heckathorn explained. “Oftentimes when a tragedy happens, we find ourselves feeling so helpless, and we just started talking with our girls about what they’re feeling and what we could do to honor these kids.”
Heckathorn approached Canby Signs & Graphics about producing a sticker that the Rebels and other teams could wear in support of Uvalde and the four young softball players the community lost.
“We thought we could maybe do a helmet sticker with their names on it,” Heckathorn said. “I made a phone call to Canby Signs & Graphics, and after no more than 30 seconds of conversation, [project manager] Zack [Allott] was like, ‘Say no more. We’d love to help you out with your cause.'”
Allott, who is also the father of a daughter in the fourth grade, admitted the project was an emotional one for him and his team.
“We had to look up these girls’ names with tears in our eyes as we were designing this sticker in their memory,” he said. “But when we see our local community coming together to help in tragedy, we’re going to do our part. They’re doing an amazing thing in the face of tragedy, and that’s what we should all try to do.”
Canby Graphics agreed to donate the cost of printing the stickers, which Heckathorn and the Rebels have been selling to teams and individuals for $4 each (or $40 per team). All proceeds go to the Robb School Memorial Fund, which supports the families affected by the tragedy.
Heckathorn began sharing the fundraiser with the Portland metro area softball community on Wednesday evening, with the goal of raising $1,000.
They had met that goal before noon the following day. By Friday, the team had sold upwards of 1,000 stickers and raised more than $3,600 for the victims’ families, with donations coming from all over the country.
“We’ve sent them to over 50 different clubs, including several to teams in Texas, Oklahoma, New Jersey, Nevada, Wisconsin, everywhere,” he said. “What started out as just a Pacific Northwest thing quickly expanded. It’s been remarkable.”
The Rebels have even connected with the Little League team in Uvalde — which will soon be receiving their own special batch of “Play for Uvalde” stickers printed right here in Canby.
“We just wanted to let them know what we’re doing, and they asked for some stickers,” Heckathorn said. “Every penny is going to the Robb School Memorial Fund, which is run through their local community bank and benefits the families and the victims. That’s what the Little League team asked for.”
The movement is also transcending softball. Two of the boys killed in the shooting — Xavier Lopez and Jose Flores Jr. — were Little League baseball players, and so, several local baseball teams have also expressed interest in adopting the “Play for Uvalde” message.
After Heckathorn’s initial order of 200 stickers was gone in a couple of hours, they have since had more than 1,200 printed — with no sign of slowing down.
“As long as people keep donating, we’ll keep printing them,” Allott said. “We’re more than happy to donate as many stickers as they need to support these families and this community that’s hurting.”
The stickers have helped spur conversations, he said, even among staff and customers who ask what they’re for.
“When we’re able to assist in that healing process, that helps us heal as well,” Allott said. “We know it’s barely a drop in the bucket, but we just have to do what we can to help people in this moment of grief. Every little bit matters.”
Heckathorn and his athletes have experienced the same thing.
“It’s been really inspiring to see how quickly a community can come together to do something great,” he said. “With a tragedy like this and all the helplessness and hopelessness that you feel, it’s incredible to make an impact and embrace a community from afar.
“I know it’s just a sticker, but it represents so much more than that.”
Heckathorn and the Rebels will be collecting donations through June and donated in the name of the Northwest Fastpitch Community. To contribute and order stickers, make a donation through Venmo @DevonHeckathorn or contact email@example.com.
To support the Robb School Memorial Fund, make your check payable to the “Robb School Memorial Fund” and mail it to 200 East Nopal Street, Uvalde, Texas 78801. Donations may also be made through Zelle using the email address firstname.lastname@example.org.
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