It was a day of remembering.
On Sunday May 6, a group of nearly 50 friends, family and teammates gathered at the Yoncalla High School softball field to rename it after Eagles legend, both on the field and off, Alisa Whitford.
The event was equal parts family reunion and celebration of life and centered around the unveiling of two signs to honor Alisa: one in the outfield and one on the back of the scoreboard to greet people when they enter letting them know they are at Alisa Whitford Memorial Field.
“It’s bittersweet. I try not to cry. I was nervous about coming but I’m proud,” said Whitford’s mother, Kyra Whitford. “It’s a beautiful sign, we worked on having the sign made so that it feels good to see it up. I’m proud. I’m proud that they wanted to name the field after her.”
Alisa Whitford graduated from Yoncalla High School in 1996. It was a busy day for Whitford and her teammates as they began the day by winning the state softball title in Portland and then attending graduation in the afternoon.
“We had to delay graduation because those girls were up playing,” said former athletic director Cheryl Simons. “They came back…and there’s Alisa standing at the podium in her cleats giving her salutatorian speech.”
Whitford was a three-sport athlete (softball, volleyball and basketball) and received all-league honors in addition to league scholar athlete in each sport. But it wasn’t just sports for Whitford who was also the recipient of the outstanding service award for her class, started the yearbook at Yoncalla and was a member of the National Honor Society.
After high school, she attended the University of Oregon and graduated with a bachelor of arts in exercise movement science in 2001. After college, she travelled the world and met her husband, Trent Williamson, in New Zealand before she returned to Oregon. The couple moved back to New Zealand where they started a fitness business.
Whitford passed away in 2009 from colon cancer that was discovered after she gave birth to her son Chase who currently lives in New Zealand with Williamson.
“I don’t know exactly what point, if I said something (at her memorial) or when, but I had decided that I was going to try and get this field named after her,” said Simons. “And then life happened. And then all of a sudden it was going to be my last year, so it was like, ‘okay, we better get after this.’”
Simons, who taught and coached Alisa, then talked with her mother and sister, Sarah Stinchcomb, about it and then went to the school board and got approval to rename the field.
“What’s really special about it is knowing that people still really think about her. The impact that she left. That she passed away in 2009 and people are still really thinking about her because she left that much of an impact on people around her,” said Stinchcomb. “That you know, they want to honor her and continue to keep honoring her. So it’s definitely very special.”
Sunday at Alisa Whitford Memorial Field, members of the 1996 championship softball team and other community members took turns sharing their memories of Whitford.
The time she argued with her coach in the state championship game if they should walk the other team’s best hitter; the time the coaches agreed to have their heads shaved if the team won the state title (a promise they didn’t think they would have to fulfill); how on seemingly any Sunday during her season, the team’s rest day, she would call her coach and ask him to come to the field so she could practice her pitching.
“She was one of those people that everybody loved. Because she gave everything all the time,” said assistant coach of the 1996 team, Jim Russell.
After years of not having a softball team at Yoncalla, interest from Whitford and friends got the program restarted during her freshman year. The team didn’t win a game in their first season but were able to win a handful of games her sophomore year.
Junior year, Russell and head coach Mike Bendele, took over the program. The former baseball coaches who had never coached softball, relieved Simons, who was also head volleyball and basketball coach in addition to athletic director and math teacher, from the job.
After making the playoffs the year before, the 1996 team had high expectations heading into the season. The team then lost their first two games of the year before rattling off 25 straight to win the state title behind Whitford on the mound.
“When I first thought about the cleats and the smile she had, course it brought tears to my eyes,” said Bendele. “It’s emotional because we’re all supposed to be gone before our kids are.”