Hair bows, softball socks and glitter on the cheeks of softball players and girls in the stands — all in the signature shade of lime green — were visible signs that the memory of Lauren Girten continues to permeate the area softball community.
This year, at the 9th Annual Team Lauren Tournament hosted by the Daviess County Lady Panthers, purple hair bows and purple softball socks were added for Lauren’s friend, Erica Owen, who lost her life to domestic violence in 2018. And the slogan of “One game. Two causes.” was printed on the fundraising t-shirts.
The Team Lauren tournament originated after Lauren, a DCHS softball player, died in 2010 after fighting a rare form of ovarian cancer for a year and eight months. DCHS softball coach John Biggs said he actually put the tournament together that first year as a fundraiser and to show support for Lauren and her fight, but she passed in March, so it became a way to celebrate her life.
“It truly touches our hearts that they continue to have this tournament in memory of Lauren,” said Lauren’s mother, June Girten. “I did not expect this tournament would continue once the girls that Lauren played with graduated.”
But, the coaches for DCHS softball have remained, and each year, they tell Lauren’s story to the new families and players.
“They are touched by the cause of this tournament and everyone comes together to make it successful,” June said. “Even the other teams have participated every year. This morning one of the parents said keep doing this, it is a great cause.”
Two of the teams that played in the inaugural tournament play each year — Pleasure Ridge Park (PRP) and Hancock County. For the last six years, Heritage Hills and Warren East have been playing.
“For many of the teams, this is the highlight,” Biggs said. “One year, PRP did a section in their yearbook about participating in it.”
Biggs also said it has been amazing to hear the stories from other teams that have their own stories about how cancer has affected them.
The year after Lauren passed away, Steve Crisp, the father of one of Lauren’s teammates, painted the foul poles on the field lime green with Lauren’s initials in red.
“That meant a lot to us then and even more so now after Steve’s passing,” June said. Crisp passed away in 2015 of acute myeloid leukemia.
The first year Lauren was in Louisville undergoing treatment, she stayed in contact with her coaches and teammates. She knew when the games were and would check in after to see how they did, June said.
“She loved softball and she loved her team,” she said.
And the coaches, especially Biggs, with his “huge heart” wanted to do something to honor Lauren’s memory.
When Owen was killed on July 3, 2018, Biggs told June he would like to incorporate Owen into the tournament because of the special bond between the girls and because he knew how much Owen meant to Lauren and her family.
Owen’s mom, Lisa, even shared the story at the tournament’s opening night that when Owen came home from school in fourth grade, she said, “I made a new friend today, her name is Lauren. We like all the same things, and she is really tall.”
That friendship continued, adding in many others along the way who, June said, are still part of her family and are still friends.
“I speak for that group of kids, their families and Erica’s nursing friends that our hearts are broken,” June said. “Lauren and Erica are now buried next to each other. Knowing they are together in Heaven is the only peace we have with this nightmare.”
And, each year, June comes to the field to watch the girls play, sell shirts and remember when her daughter was on the field. While none of the players, so far, have the split-stretch that Lauren did while playing first base, June finds herself looking…and remembering.
The proceeds from the tournament are shared among several organizations that are important to the cause — a scholarship at DCHS in memory of Lauren, the American Cancer Society, Hospice of Western Kentucky and a scholarship at Owensboro Community and Technical College in Owen’s name. This year, another alumni’s family will also be a recipient of the proceeds. Taylor Brown played for DCHS and her father, Buster Brown, suffered two debilitating strokes in February.
“It’s just another way to support the DC family,” Biggs said.