What began as a casual shoot-around and backyard barbecue among friends 22 years ago has become a meaningful community hoopfest for charity on Auburn’s Lea Hill.
Each summer, the Lacey family opens its home and basketball court to players of all sizes, ages and abilities to compete for fun and raise money for the Paris White Foundation, a nonprofit organization that works to prevent drownings, spread awareness and promote safety at homes and around waterways, especially for families and their children.
The White family created the foundation in memory of their 2-year-old girl, Paris, who died in a 2005 drowning accident at their Lea Hill home.
The foundation raises not only money but accepts and donates life jackets as part of a loaner program to those in need. Statewide parks, fire and rescue units, county sheriffs departments, kids safety groups and various open-water organizations are among the many groups who have joined the effort. The foundation’s goal – since its inception – is to have life jacket loaner boards, or any other life jacket loaner program, at every open water or regulated facility throughout the state. The idea, the family emphasized, is to save lives.
The Whites established a public life jacket station and kiosk at Isaac Evans Park along the Green River in Auburn several years ago, and the project has grown ever since.
Six years ago, the Lacey family decided to help their friends by adding a special ingredient to the neighborhood hoops event.
Last year’s Lace ’em Up for Paris tournament raised enough money to contribute 255 life jackets to the foundation, said Jeff Lacey, whose family organizes and runs the event, replete with music, food and commemorative T-shirts for players who pay a nominal entry fee.
“We try to keep the costs down, keep it local, small and fun – and for a good cause,” said Jeff Lacey, whose sons, JJ, Ryan and Quinn, and daughter, Jenna, are good all-around, multi-sport athletes.
The tournament generally raises about $2,00o for the foundation each year, Jeff Lacey said, adding that a group of 10 local sponsors has chipped in this summer.
Last weekend’s tournament attracted 32 adults and students, divided into 3-on-3 rosters that were drawn the night before, when Jeff Lacey explained to players the event’s rules and why they were there – the foundation. Perpetual play goes on throughout Saturday, with winners surviving the bracket battles.
“Guys never know who they are going to get … that’s kind of the fun about it,” Jeff said of the open drawing for players. “You play with different guys every year and develop friendships because you’re with that team the whole weekend.”
At times, the play is intense, but in the end, forgiving.
“We’re here to have a good time, play for a good cause and have fun,” said Talan Alfrey, who is a cousin of the White family. Alfrey, a senior-to-be and a three-sport star at Auburn Mountainview High School, verbally committed two weeks ago to attend and play football at BYU in 2018.
Alfrey’s friend and senior-to-be teammate Quinn Lacey enjoys the summertime gathering of support at his household.
“This has always been a part of my life,” he said. “It was cool that we can put what had already been established to a good cause and help (the White family) any way we can … to get life jackets. … The people here understand it’s a tournament for charity. It’s just for fun at the end of the day.”
For Ed and Carol Banker, the tournament is especially gratifying to watch. It shines as a tribute to their late granddaughter.
“It’s been great and amazing … it’s benefited a lot of people,” Ed Banker said of the foundation’s work. “This keeps her memory alive, and that’s what we are striving for, and this is a fun way to do it.”