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Pitch perfect: Keach earns first Kari J. Cross scholarship

Money raised honors memory of woman who gave much to Viking sports community
By Holly Vanorse Spicer | Jun 17, 2020
Courtesy of: Heather Nadeau

Searsport — When the youth athletics' community of Searsport lost Kari Cross, one of its most significant supporters, in 2019, Dusty Nadeau, and his wife, Heather, looked for a way to channel their grief and loss into something they felt was representative of the woman's spirit.

The Nadeaus' daughter, Lily, played sports together year round with Cross’s daughter, Ariana. The pair, who had attended schools together since preschool, were close friends, and from that bond, the Nadeaus came to know Cross well.

Heather, and Cross, shared a connection as part of a larger, unofficial group of mothers advocating for the children in their daughters’ age group.

Cross was 39 years old when she passed suddenly on Feb. 16, 2019.

Cross, whose maiden name was Hilt, was a 1997 graduate of Georges Valley High School, where she played softball for the Buccaneers. She had, for a time, worked as the director for the Searsport Recreation Department.

“When Kari passed, it rocked our world to say the least,” Dusty said.

“We kinda huddled together with other peer parents and friends of Kari's and pitched the idea of a fundraiser in the form of the KJC Softball Clinics, of which the proceeds would go into scholarship fund with an annual gift to be given to an [Regional School Unit] 20 senior in Kari's honor,” he said.

From there, the ball got rolling.

On April 28, 2019, the group was able to bring together people whom Cross had connected with as a passionate softball mother.

Area coaches, families, and friends from Waldo County Cal Ripken, Team Attack, River Drivers, and Searsport softball, together held a day-long softball clinic in the Searsport District High School gymnasium.

“It seemed to feel like another memorial gathering for Kari, as her loss was still fresh,” Dusty said.

He said about 75 children attended the clinic, and took part in fielding, pitching, batting, and catcher's sessions. Aside from honing or learning new skills from the clinic, there was a potluck, raffles, and t-shirts also were sold to raise money.

“I think it was the kind of event that Kari would have loved organizing, and participating in,” he said.

A logo was created for the event, using the silhouette of Cross’s daughter, Arianna, to promote the clinic. The logo also was used on stickers and shirts.

“I still see these t-shirts and stickers around the state every once in awhile, which is great,” Dusty said.

Dusty said the group was able to raise enough money to establish the Kari J. Cross Memorial Scholarship. He added he hopes they can hold similar events such as the sports clinic in the future to feed the fund.

Donations also can be made directly through RSU 20 schools.

Applicants for the scholarship had to, in 500 words or fewer, describe what community meant to them, their most important extracurricular activities, why they joined those activities, and why they continued to contribute, or partake in them?

Other prompts were to describe one thing that the applicant would do to improve their community, how they would accomplish that goal, and what volunteer efforts they had done that made the most significant difference to them.

Dusty said a handful of students responded, and all of the submissions were impressive.

The messages were reviewed by a small committee, which included a core group of organizers, as well as Cross’s family, including her daughter, Arianna.

On June 4, in a prerecorded video from Cross’s sisters, Jenna Keach, a SDHS senior, was awarded the first gift of the scholarships efforts.

“Jenna was also present at the KJC softball clinic and gave her time facilitating pitching clinics for some of the youngest participants that day,” Dusty said.

He said Keach clearly shares Cross’s love of softball, and plans to play for Husson University in Bangor where she will study criminal justice. For anyone who knew Cross, and her deep appreciation of police officers in the community, will understand the sentimentality of Keach’s selection for this award, Dusty said.

"It means a lot to me, especially since I knew Kari personally," Keach said of receiving the scholarship.

Keach said Cross knew how to put a smile on anyone's face.

“So many in our community came together to make this happen for Kari. So many to thank, too many to name,” Dusty said.

The plan, he said, always was to establish something meaningful, and lasting in the community, which would forever invoke her name and memory as a tribute to the special contributions she made to so many in Searsport.

Dusty said that now, every year Cross's name will be spoken in a moment of giving to a special young person who hopefully will go out into the world and pay it forward in the spirit of community.

“Kari's kind heart deserves that legacy,” Dusty said.

Kari Cross. (Source: Facebook)
Kari Cross's daughter, Ariana, left, participates in the KJC Softball Clinics in 2019 at Searsport District High School. (Courtesy of: Heather Nadeau)
Youngsters participate in the KJC Softball Clinics in 2019 at Searsport District High School. (Courtesy of: Heather Nadeau)
Youngsters participate in the KJC Softball Clinics in 2019 at Searsport District High School. (Courtesy of: Heather Nadeau)
Tee-shirts from fundraising efforts for a scholarship created in Kari Cross's name. (Courtesy of: Heather Nadeau)
Viking Jenna Keach in the pitching circle. (Courtesy of: Jenna Keach)
Jenna Keach. (Courtesy of: Jenna Keach)
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