Positive memories: Emily Johnson scholarship winners cherish award, friend at annual tournament | PostIndependent.com

Positive memories: Emily Johnson scholarship winners cherish award, friend at annual tournament

Jon Mitchell

GLENWOOD SPRINGS — Rachel Becker thought back Saturday to when she won the first Emily Johnson Creativity Scholarship seven years ago and couldn’t help but feel guilty.

“It was great that I was getting a scholarship that was named in her honor,” the 23-year-old Coal Ridge High School graduate said. “But it was also really hard because I knew I was getting this scholarship because she passed away.”

For Becker, however, the scholarship had a much deeper meaning.

Emily Johnson was Becker’s best friend.

Johnson, a former soccer player at Coal Ridge who died in an ATV accident in 2008, is the namesake for the seventh-annual Emily Johnson Play it Forward 3-on-3 Soccer Tournament that is taking place at Gates Soccer Park on the Colorado Mountain College Spring Valley Campus. And many of the proceeds from the tournament help fund scholarships for three fortunate local college students.

Becker happened to be the first one, and she in no way was the last. Including the soccer, creativity and valley wide soccer scholarships that were distributed this year, 21 scholarships totaling more than $50,000 have been awarded in Johnson’s name.

Given the choice, though, Becker would rather have her friend around than the scholarship money.

“She would have gladly given back the money if it meant bringing Emily back,” Emily’s mother, Sheryl Johnson, said of Becker.

Regardless, unlike many memorial events and tournaments that lose their novelty aspects after a year or two, the Play it Forward tournament has continued to grow and go strong. This year’s tournament, which began Friday with Class 4A and 3A Western Slope League All-Star Games on Friday and ends with age-group championships today at Gates, capped out at 50 teams for the first time.

In large part, Sheryl Johnson said, the continued growth in turnout comes from former friends and classmates of Emily Johnson. Many of the people who come yearly come simply because they were Emily’s friend.

And she had many.

“It really represents what kind of a person she was,” said Becker, who used the scholarship money to “She really made everyone feel like they were her best friend. We were friends since third grade, and I would even get jealous sometimes knowing she had some many other friends because she was the kind of person who would never leave anyone out.”

That continued turnout, however, has helped area high school students go to college. The scholarship winners are determined by a panel that interviews applicants and determines the student’s passions and aptitude.

“What it really comes down to is the passion of the student,” said Jenny Zetah, a member of the scholarship panel that awards the scholarships annually. “We have so many great students who come through, and it really lifts our hearts to hear the hopes and dreams of these students. And when we see that, we usually see that little spark of Emily there.”

Another award winner who knew that spark well is Toni Gross, a 2014 Roaring Fork High graduate who used the valley wide soccer scholarship she won last year to help her attend Colorado State in Fort Collins, where she’s currently enrolled. The former three-sport athlete at Roaring Fork spent Saturday afternoon as a volunteer referee for games with younger players.

It’s the least she can do, she feels.

“Emily and I grew up together,” said Gross, whose mother, Jane, was in CMC’s veterinary tech program with Sheryl. “She had a profound impact on my life. So to be able to apply for the scholarship and actually win it brought tears to my eyes.”

This year’s award winners were Coal Ridge’s Enrique Bucio, Holly Keesee, who won the creativity scholarship, and Jamie Briscoe, who won the valley wide soccer scholarship.

Bucio, who for the past two years was among the nation’s leaders in assists according to statistics provided on http://www.maxpreps.com, was only in fifth grade when Emily Johnson passed. Still, he’s more than thankful for the money that will help pay for his education at Division II Dixie State in St. George, Utah, where he’ll play soccer.

“I’ve heard she was so passionate about soccer that even with my passion, I don’t think I could compare myself to her,” Bucio said. “Even with this tournament, everyone comes out and supports it because they know how much she loved soccer. I’m just glad to be a part of it.”

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