In 1999, after Wes Swain’s four-year-old son Cody was diagnosed with cancer, the guys Wes played ball with held a small tournament to raise money for the family.
This weekend, the Cody Classic will play its 20th iteration, after two decades of helping families throughout the Cowichan Valley who are going through the same thing the Swains dealt with in 1999.
“It meant so much to our family, we never let it stop,” Wes Swain explains.
The tournament has developed a group of devotees who can be counted on to play year in and year out. There’s even a waiting list for teams.
“There’s basically a following, and now it’s in its second generation,” Swain says. “Over 20 years, that’s how it works.”
The money, goes to families in the Cowichan Valley “from Chemainus to the Malahat, and from Maple Bay to Nitinat,” who are dealing with childhood cancer. Hundreds of thousands of dollars have been handed out, to as many as five new families a year.
“The money raised, we hope we never have to give it away,” Swain says. “When we do, it means another family has been diagnosed.”
From the costs of travelling to the Mainland for treatment, to lost wages, to other expenses that aren’t covered by a family’s health plan, there are many reasons a family might need money in such a situation — hence the no-questions-asked policy. The Cody Classic still helps families once they are cancer-free when they have to travel for checkups.
“Money doesn’t really matter to you when you’re dealing with that,” Swain notes. “All you want is your child to be healthy, and then bills bite you in the butt.”
The focus is on childhood cancer, but the Cody Classic has also donated to the Cowichan District Hospital maternity and pediatric unit.
“When we went through it, we found out our little hospital didn’t have things like little needles for kids,” Swain explains.
Cody Swain is now 24, and taking university courses in Vancouver.
“He’s healthy,” Wes says. “And we don’t talk about the C-word except when it comes to raising money for it.”
There’s more than one word starting with that letter that you don’t utter around Wes Swain.
“We’re not a charity,” he emphasizes. “I hate the word ‘charity.’ We’re just neighbours helping neighbours. That’s what we do in the Valley.”
Teams pay a $300 entry fee and donate items for the silent and live auctions, but there are no prizes handed out to the champions.
“They’re all winners just for playing for children’s cancer,” Swain says. “It’s all about fun and being there for the right reasons.”
The tournament was limited to 16 teams in the past, but expanded to 20 for the 20th year. Most teams are from the Valley, although several players come from out-of-town to play with family and friends. Swain would like to see similar events across the Island.
“There’s no reason why every community on Vancouver Island couldn’t have a tournament this weekend for childhood cancer in their community,” he said. “It’s not that much work once you get teams that believe in the cause.”
Games last five innings, and each batter starts with one ball and one strike to keep things going. Most games are played at Waldon Park in Glenora, starting on Friday night after 5 p.m. There will be a few games on the Cowichan Tribes fields Friday night and Saturday morning.
Wes Swain will give a presentation at noon on Saturday “about why we’re there and what can happen,” and then 11-year-old Poppy White is scheduled to throw out the ceremonial pitch early on Saturday afternoon.
Poppy has been battling leukemia, and the Cody Classic has been helping her out.
“I coached her older sister [Belle] in soccer, so they knew our story,” Swain notes. “And then for it to happen to them, it blows you out of the water. It’s hard to imagine until it hits home.”
The forecast for this weekend isn’t favourable to softball, but Swain isn’t concerned.
“The big guy upstairs has always helped us out,” he said. “I think we’ve had three days of rain in 20 years. Either way, we’ll be prepared for it. If the worst thing you have to worry about is playing ball in the rain, you’re living a pretty good life.”