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Kickball tournament raises money for March of Dimes
Carter Vaverek, 47, cheers after his team scores a run at the Kicking it for Babies kickball tournament on Saturday, Feb. 17, 2018 at the Lanier Point Athletic Complex. The tournament raised about $900 that will be split between March of Dimes and the Children at Play Fund. - photo by Layne Saliba

With a light drizzle falling from the sky, Zandrea Stephens sat in her car in the parking lot of the Lanier Point Athletic Complex, fearing she would have to postpone the event she had planned for a second time.

But about 45 minutes later, cars started pulling up and team members for the kickball tournament she had organized to raise money for March of Dimes and the Children at Play Fund began to head toward the fields.

“I’m actually amazed that this many people came out,” said Stephens, an assistant division manager with Gainesville Parks and Recreation and part of the March of Dimes leadership team.

She decided to bring the two organizations she’s a part of together for one day and one event to raise money and awareness for them. Through the Kicking it for Babies kickball tournament, she said she was able to raise around $900 that will be split between the two organizations.

The Children at Play Fund helps children in Hall County who can’t afford to take part in activities like pee wee and youth athletics, day camps and instructional classes. Through the fund, their fees could be paid or equipment bought for them.

March of Dimes is a national nonprofit that helps mothers during pregnancy and with premature births. That’s what brought Stephens to come up with the idea for a kickball tournament in the first place.

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Zandrea Stephens welcomes teams to the Kicking it for Babies kickball tournament on Saturday, Feb. 17, 2018, at the Lanier Point Athletic Complex. Through the tournament she organized, she was able to raise about $900 to split between March of Dimes and the Children at Play Fund. - photo by Layne Saliba
She has twins, Joshua and Caleb Gearing, that were born at 26 weeks at about 2 pounds apiece, so she has benefitted from March of Dimes and knows how much it can help other mothers.

“Not only did I experience what March of Dimes is representing, I lived it,” Stephens said. “So I’m out here for that cause.”

She wasn’t the only one there that has benefitted from March of Dimes. Melissa Payne was there with her kickball team, Amazing Graceanne, to play in the tournament as well. Payne’s daughter, Graceanne, who was given just a 5 percent chance to live, was the 2015 March of Dimes Ambassador for the area.

“I had no warning or risk factors for a premature baby,” said Payne, whose daughter was born 14 weeks early at 1 pound, 12 ounces. “But when she was in the (neonatal intensive care unit), she was there for 97 days. We had a lot of very successful treatments for her. And the research that founded those treatments was funded by the March of Dimes.”

And that’s the reason her friends and family registered their team for just $6 per person to play in the tournament. Other local companies that took part were Georgia Power, Brenau University, Longstreet Clinic, Publix and MP Equipment.

“It’s a great cause Publix has supported for a long time,” said Cole Bentley, an assistant store manager at Publix in Flowery Branch. “I think it’s good what March of Dimes does, so a baby can be healthy and survive and live a life that’s full.”

As the tournament was going on, Stephens couldn’t help but to sit back and watch as the games were played. She said she was “overwhelmed” and even started looking forward to next year’s tournament.

“I just though let’s give this a shot,” Stephens said. “I thought it could be very successful, and since it was, we’re looking to do it for years to come.”


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