Kendra Couch Classic honors cancer patients through baseball

SAN DIEGO -- Seven years ago, Keith Johnson started the Kendra Couch Classic baseball game to raise awareness about cancer. The single game expanded into tournament form for the first time this year and includes several local high schools coming together to raise money for cancer research.

Kendra Couch, a longtime family friend of Johnson, passed away from bone cancer in 2013 and Johnson chose to name the annual games in her honor.

"She was my best friends mom," said Johnso, Mt. Carmel's assistant baseball coach. "She was an amazing woman. A smile that could light up the room and so there's no better way to honor her."

Players are given the chance to honor someone they know affected by cancer by wearing that person's name on the back of their jersey.

For Sundevils third baseman, Tanner Wood, he's decided to recognize his mom who battled skin cancer.

"It's really hard but it's cool to see how tough they are when they're going through it and how they can work through the hardest thing probably in their life," said Wood.

The jerseys are auctioned off with proceeds benefitting UCSD Moores Cancer Center. Players admit the names worn on those jerseys can often time be surprising.

"You don't know that one of their family members has it until the game happens and you see the name on their back and you can kind of like talk to them about it and guys connect," said Wood.

"It's unfortunate that so many people know someone who's been affected by cancer but it's also a really cool way we can honor them and raise money to hopefully prevent future generations from not having to deal with it," said Johnson.

The eight high schools participating wear alternate colored jerseys representing different kinds of cancer. Scripps Ranch High School players are wearing yellow in honor of bone cancer.

For pitching coach Kyle Owsley, the tournament name means something extra special.

"To be able to take a passion and a labor of love and do something great to fight cancer and raise awareness about cancer in my mom's name is outstanding," said Owsley.

Senior Jackson Bolitho chose to honor a long-time family friend and former FOX 5 anchor Loren Nancarrow, who passed away in 2013 from brain cancer.

"He meant a lot to my mom, my family. We really loved him," said Bolitho. "He was loved by people in San Diego. I think it was just fitting to wear his name in his honor."

While not all the names on the jerseys have happy endings, coaches say recognizing loved ones in something as simple as a baseball game can bring a community together.

"It takes a team to fight cancer and we'd love to be there to support people and make sure they know we're here for them," said Johnson.

"There are too many names on the back of these jerseys and in fact, that's the true goal of it all is that someday we don't have to do this because there is no more cancer and whether we can reach that goal or not, we're going to keep going until we can," said Owsley.

No matter how long it may take.

Roughly 200 jerseys will be auctioned off Saturday at Mt. Carmel and Torrey Pines high schools.