PANAMA CITY BEACH, Fla. (WMBB) – The Panama City Beach Sports Complex is wrapping up their first week of the Grand Slam World Series of Baseball. Around 40 teams came to play this week and one of them, the 12U Fort Payne Crusaders from Alabama, came to play for much more than just wins.
One of the Crusaders’ assistant coaches, Kurt Winn, passed away on May 11 due to complications with COVID-19.
“Coach Kurt was always lifting our players up, making them be the best version of themselves, on and off the field,” said Jennifer Ledford, mother of a Crusaders player.
The team thought about not playing in this tournament, but they said that wouldn’t be what Coach Winn wanted.
“Oh Kurt wouldn’t have it any other way, he would be like why are y’all not at a ball field this weekend like what are y’all doing,” Ledford said. “He wouldn’t have it any other way, he would say play. “
The Crusaders wanted to find a way to take him with them on their travels though. They decided to get a shadow box made with his jersey in it and the words ‘In Loving Memory of Kurt Winn’ etched into the glass.
They display it proudly behind their dugout for each game.
“We all kinda put our heads together and said we want to do something to honor him,” Crusaders head coach Tim Ledford said. “With that he’s with us everywhere we go, we said Kurt’s in the back with us, Kurt’s in the back with us. “
The Crusaders are playing every game in honor of Coach Kurt. His son, Griffin, is even pitching for the team. All the players and coaches have No. 65 on their sleeves so that he’s still out there on the field with them too.
“He was always there for us and I want to be there for him,” Crusaders player Ryder Shankles said.
The Crusaders all know he’s out there, watching over them still and cheering them on from above.
“It’s an honor to us all, he’s up there smiling right now, just knowing what we are doing is keeping his memory alive,” Coach Ledford said.
The Crusaders are playing through the 12U loser’s bracket of the tournament, but staying alive by defeating opponent after opponent.
They are playing in the quarterfinals of that bracket on Saturday morning with a chance to head to the championship game.