Tragedies can never be completely overcome, but it was a comfort to see the generous spirit of Kathy Garrigan draw nearly 1,000 people to the Park. Kathy, 24, perished in a boating accident in 2007 while serving as an Americorps Volunteer in Alaska. The 4th Annual KG Classic raised tens of thousands of dollars to help people with developmental disabilities through Opportunity Knocks. To the casual observer, though, it looked like a giant softball tournament.

Softball was Kathy’s first sport, her mother, Marian, said in a speech at home plate. She was a top player for the Oak Park Windmills and also excelled at basketball and volleyball.

When it comes to softball, Kathy’s friends are no slouches. The 20-team tourney kicked off at 7:30 a.m. on Saturday, with the championship game scheduled for 9:00 p.m. McGaffer’s and Carole’s fielded squads and organizer Phil Carmody regrettably had to turn six teams away.

Phil said holding the tournament at the Park was the best decision they ever made. He described it as the impeccably groomed Mecca of softball.

Phil is Board President of Opportunity Knocks, a non-profit organization that provides after-school programs for the developmentally disabled at the River Forest Community Center. The group holds an after-school program three days a week for those in the 15-30 age range. But this is only the first phase of the program.

Phase two will offer developmental workshops to teach careers and life skills. Phil said this would be especially important for those over 22, who have been cut off from state and federal programs. In phase three, Opportunity Knocks plans to establish a group home.

Phil’s brother, Mike, is the organization’s founder, executive director and only full-time employee. Mike attended grade school, high school and college with Kathy so her death hit him especially hard. After she passed away, he didn’t know how to channel his grief. Along with Phil and Kathy’s sister, Rosie Hepner, he established the first KG Classic and soon after launched Opportunity Knocks.

The group gets all of its money from donations and relies heavily on fund raising events. Phil recalled the first KG Classic raised $5,000, the second $13,000 and last year they brought in an astonishing $45,000. This year they raised $30,000 before the first pitch was tossed.

Marian is surprised every year by the increase in generosity. Even in these tough times, sponsorships and donations continue to grow. She said Kathy would have loved the event, not only because she volunteered for Misericordia and worked with Special Olympians but because it serves as a joyful get-together of family and friends.

As for the emotions of the KG Classic, I think Marian captured it best. She asked us to take a moment of silence for all the young people who give service, some of whom were taken too soon.

John Rice is a columnist/private detective, who has seen his business and family thrive in Forest Park. He thoroughly enjoys life in the village and still gets a thrill smelling Red Hots, watching softball and strolling through cemeteries.