Memory of Emily Johnson lives on
What began as an emotional tribute for a Silt community still reeling after the tragic death of a young woman has turned into a celebration of the life of Emily Johnson, who nine years after her death continues to bring people together and change lives. Now in its ninth year, the Emily Johnson Play it Forward 3-on-3 Soccer Tournament has become a summertime staple of the community.
According to family and friends that knew her best, Johnson was the kind of person that people gravitated towards and now, nearly a decade after her death, that remains true as ever. Next weekend, on June 10 and June 11, Silt families will return home and come together with families throughout the valley to celebrate a life that was cut short far too soon.
“The first one was very emotional, but now nine years later, though the wound will never truly heal, it has become more of a celebration of a special young woman,” said Jenny Zetah, teacher at Cactus Valley Elementary, whose daughter was a friend of Emily’s.
In 2008, Johnson, a junior at Coal Ridge High School and captain of the varsity soccer team, died in a four-wheel accident. Following her death a group of parents got together and discussed how to honor her, and what they came up with, the Emily Johnson Play it Forward 3v3 Soccer Tournament, has brought family, friends, and lives that she touched together every year since.
The tournament honors her memory by awarding three scholarships to participants, and serves as somewhat of a reunion for those kids that were in her classes and grew up with her.
“It’s a great event for the community, especially for my daughter and those kids who grew up with her,” Zetah, who serves on the scholarship panel, added. “She brought people together when she was alive, and she’s still bringing people together to this day.”
The annual event not only gives her friends and family the chance to reconnect each year, but provides the opportunity for those whose lives she impacted the most to say thanks.
An organ donor, Johnson’s death saved many lives, and the lives she saved come out to the tournament each year to pay their respects and learn a little bit more about her.
42-year-old Denver native Tyler Garrison received her pancreas and liver and has driven his family down from Bozeman, Montana, to play in and watch the tournament.
“Oh my gosh it brings tears to my eyes just thinking about how lucky I am,” he told the Post Independent in 2013. “I get to watch my kids grow up now.”
That year his son and daughter played in the under-10 division.
Similar to Garrison, David Briggs, who’s wife C.J. received both of Emily’s lungs, came out that same year to honor Emily.
“This tournament is great at honoring Emily,” Briggs told the Post. “I can obviously see that this is pretty well-established, and it looks like it’s going to be around for decades to come. So that honor will live on forever, and the memory of my wife will go along with it.”
Though his wife died that year of kidney failure he still felt compelled to drive from California to say thanks.
This year’s tournament will take place at Gates Soccer Park on the Spring Valley Campus of Colorado Mountain College in Glenwood Springs.
3-on-3 tournament play begins Saturday morning at 8 a.m., with divisions in teams for under-10, 12-14, 16-18, and adult co-ed recreational and competitive. Cost is $150 per team ($25 per player) and guarantees at least three games as well as a goody bag and tournament T-shirt. Teams have until June 5 to register with as many as 50 spots available. All proceeds support three scholarships given to local high school seniors in Emily’s name.
One scholarship is granted to a Coal Ridge High School soccer player who best embodies Emily’s love for the game and her team. Another scholarship is provided for any senior soccer player in the Roaring Fork Valley who exhibits passion for their journey in life. The final scholarship goes to a Coal Ridge High School student who uses a creative mind to impact and enrich the community. Maris de Jesus Aguirre Anchondo won this year’s creativity scholarship, Rifle High School senior Jose Quinones took home the Roaring Fork Valley scholarship, and Aiely Chavez won the Coal Ridge soccer scholarship.
Those looking to donate directly can go to http://www.EmilyJohnsonPlayItForward.org.
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