It was hot and steamy last Friday afternoon. We had just arrived in Bellefonte and headed straight to the baseball field to see what needed to be done before the tournament began bright and early Saturday morning. David was expecting at least a few hours of backbreaking labor in the heat before our night was over. To our great surprise the field was in pretty amazing shape. And as we stood there contemplating what was left to be done, young men started pulling up. Some we knew and many we didn't. Some were ball players and some had never played the game in their life. All were there to help and, as we came to find out, had been there to help night after night for the past week. We were told that a few short weeks ago there was no way any baseball would be played on that field. Because of our current situation with Covid, no team had used the field this season and it was in dire need of some TLC. But not playing on this field, where Dylan had left his mark, was not an option. There may have been a few alternate fields in better shape in neighboring towns, but Dylan was a kid from Bellefonte and that is where this whole tournament was going to be held. So a group of boys, young men really, with rakes and a tractor, wheelbarrows and bare hands set to work. Weeds were pulled from the infield. The pitchers mound was repaired. The dugouts were swept and cleaned. Dirt was hauled to fill in the base paths. It was going to be ready for an 8 am first pitch on Sat., come hell or high water. These boys were not getting paid for their time and effort and the majority hadn't played organized baseball in many years, if ever. These boys were doing this out of the goodness of their hearts. They did it for the love of the game itself, and they did it for Dylan. Their friend played on this field many years ago, and they were going to have it playable for his tournament - no doubt about it. And for us, this is what the Dylan K. Crunick Memorial Tournament is all about. This is love.
For the past 4 years, the second weekend in August brings an amazing sporting event to Centre County - and it has nothing to do with Penn State Football. It has to do with love for a friend and the game that meant so much to him. It is yet another way that the amazing little town of Bellefonte, Pa. reminds us that our son Dylan will live on forever in their hearts. It reminds us that even though we have left, we will always have a home there. God placed our family among these sweet souls when Dylan was facing his greatest challenges because He knew they would take care of us. We were where we needed to be. They helped us through it and they help us still. We can only hope now to pay it forward.
For those who don't know, this tournament was the brainchild of our dear friend Larry Horner. The Horner boys and my Crunick boys grew up together. Neighborhood friends, family friends, angels in disguise. Our boys now range in age from 14 -24 with Dylan and Alex being the same age and year in school. They enjoyed a pretty blissful childhood in Bellefonte with a group that roamed freely from house to house in our neighborhoods, each family in the group treating these boys as they would their own. From sleepovers and basketball games at Benner, riding scooters and swimming in backyard pools to ding dong ditching and trick-or-treating, these kids were able to enjoy a childhood that seemed enchanted.........until one day that innocence was gone. I sit here writing this with tears streaming down my face, but a heart that is full of love and gratitude that Dylan was at the very least able to experience that joy in his short life. I will not name individuals for fear of leaving someone out, but the kids of Crestview and Millgate know who you are and I pray your memories of childhood are as sweet as mine.
So as these kids supported Dylan in his life, they now remember him after his death and this tournament is a testament to that. As the idea grew and took shape, each of the 3 Horner boys, along with our son Cooper, formed teams. They added a 4th team headed by friends and teammates of Dylan's and those four teams played in the first annual Dylan K. Crunick Memorial Tournament in August of 2017. The core of these four teams has pretty much stuck and they have come to develop their own, quite unique, personalities. They are known by their colors as all teams wear identical shirts under the name of The Cavaliers. Hot Coral, managed by Matthew Horner, has always been the oldest team and probably comprised of the least amount of actual baseball players. In fact, I would say there is more soccer experience on this team than anything else. In our first tournament I witnessed an umpire questioning Hot Coral's first baseman as to why he was not using a first baseman's glove. His reply was, " I am wearing someone else's pants that are too small and soccer cleats, what on earth makes you think I own a first baseman's mitt"! These boys play loud music in the dugout and do a lot of good natured "trash" talking. They never take themselves too seriously and have over the years become a fan favorite. If you want to experience pure joy, just watch this team play.
Lime Green ( now Purple) is managed by Alex Horner and Cooper Crunick, with some assistance from their statistician Cam McKee. This team has always been comprised of a combination of Bellefonte boys and Dylan's travel teammates. They were the first to have some college players on their team, even if it was only for an inning or two as their college coaches allowed. They have always been the most diverse with players from all over Pa as well as a few of Cooper's friends from New York in the past few years. This team is as full of talent as it is of love for Dylan. Over the years life-long friendships have been built between these boys and their reunion every year is something they all look forward to. It is a true band of brothers.
Gray ( now Red) is managed by Harrison Horner. These players players were the little ones once, starting at 13-14 years old. They were never intimidated by playing much older, more experienced teams. Now, as upcoming High School seniors, they are the ones to look out for. They may not have all known Dylan personally but many followed behind him in Little League and knew of his passion for the game. Each year when we return and I see these boys I am reminded of how fast time flies and how quickly kids grow. I expect to see their names on the Championship cup in the near future.
The fourth team, Blue, is managed by 3 of Dylan's dearest friends, Tyler Kreger, Garret Reiter and Logan Mathieu. This team started out as mostly members of the Bellefonte Varsity baseball team. These boys share Dylan's passion and love for the game and play with great intensity and talent. They are probably known as the most competitive but the other teams are never going to allow them to take themselves too seriously.
So this is how it all started. Four teams, each tied to Dylan in it's own unique way. As I reflect on it now, each represents a distinct characteristic of Dylan's personality. Coral represents Dylan's fun loving, mischievous side. Lime Green represents his sense of loyalty and brotherhood. Gray represents perseverance and his desire to improve himself. And Blue represents his passion to compete and will to win.
4 teams playing in remembrance of their brother and friend. And that is still the core of the tournament 4 years later. We have grown by leaps and bounds, and had it not been for Covid, we would have had our largest tournament ever this year with upwards of 30 teams. I love that we are growing bigger and better every year, however I never want us to loose sight of the origins of this weekend and everything it represents. I never want winning (even for the right of your name on the cup) to overshadow the pure joy of playing with your buddies on a warm and sunny August afternoon. I never want it to be about who can hit the most home runs or strike out the most batters. I want it to remain about who had the most fun and who has the best stories to tell after the weekend is over. I cannot begin to explain how I feel each time one of these boys comes up to me, a huge smile lighting up his face, and tells me how this is the weekend he looks forward to all summer. It is pure joy, a return to innocence. And couldn't we all use a little bit of that in our lives right now?
So, we do all of this not just to remember, but to pay it forward. We use the money we raise each year to make our little corner of the world a better place. From easing the financial burden of college tuition, to easing the emotional burden of having a child diagnosed with cancer. We try in any way we can to help Dylan's light shine on. It is all we can do with the time we have left. To all who have helped us along the way, we thank you from the bottom of our broken hearts. And as we head into another school year, with all the promise and hope of adventure that brings, my heart breaks just a little more as I think of a boy who had so much life left to live, so many dreams left unfulfilled. But I know deep down in my soul that he is experiencing much more than we can begin to imagine. His days are surely filled with sunshine and happiness and he is just waiting to welcome us all home.
Godspeed and keep swinging for the fences,
Aaron Crunick, Matthew Horner, Cooper Crunick, Alex Horner