The very first Sarah Villar Memorial Game paid homage to a life gone too soon.
On March 22, the Gilroy High softball team hosted Christopher High in what will be the annual Sarah Villar Memorial Game going forward. Villar is the former Gilroy High graduate who was tragically killed by a drunk driver while walking with her fiancé along Sunnyslope Road in Hollister last June.
The incident came just two days after the Mustangs won the program’s fourth Central Coast section championship. Villar was 32 years old.
Amid the circumstances, Gilroy’s coach Dusty Lester, former Mustangs coach Bria DeLorenzo, Lester’s daughter Casey, and Christopher’s coach Amanda Tellez – a teammate and childhood friend of Villar – wanted to find a way to honor Villar for the impact she had on their lives. and many more.
During the pregame ceremony, Dusty Lester unveiled the Sarah Villar No. 5 banner hanging from the right field fence near the foul post.
“Seeing them unveil the banner in honor of Sarah, that’s when it really hit me,” said Brandon Villar, Sarah’s younger brother of six years. “I grew up watching my sister play softball on this field. So to be able to be back with all the girls she played with, it was such a great experience to hang out with them and see all the great memories we had.
Gilroy went on to beat Christopher, 10-0, but that only served as a footnote to what happened in the pre-match ceremony in fond remembrance of Villar.
“The game went our way, but it wasn’t about the game,” Dusty Lester said. “It was about honoring Sarah and I thought it went really, really well.”
Lester said the pre-game ceremony was emotional. Villar’s parents, Dave and Monica, were present, as well as Brandon. Along with several former Villar teammates, they formed a circle around the pitching circle and poured dirtbags in Villar’s honor after the moment of silence.
“It was pretty emotional for everyone,” Lester said. “Dave and Monica, they were just overwhelmed and so grateful and moved that we remembered her and how she won’t be forgotten in the area. They were very upset and touched by this.
Indeed, Dave and Monica praised the efforts of Casey and Dusty Lester, Tellez and DeLorenzo for organizing the event. Players from both teams wore specially designed Sarah Villar Memorial jerseys with her number 5 on the back during pre-game warm-ups, and coaches wore the jerseys for the duration of the game.
Dave and Monica are now based in Scottsdale, Arizona, but commute to the South Valley area to work year-round.
“We had been at Gilroy since 1978 and developed wonderful friendships with so many people in the community,” Monica said. “It still has a little community feel. Seeing so many faces that we hadn’t seen in years was so touching. Dave was Sarah’s softball coach and watched her grow into a wonderful softball player. She touched many lives and it was great to see so many people there to honor her. It brought back a lot of good memories from the softball days. To be on the court, watching her throw and hit her over that fence that now has her logo on it, was pretty special.
Casey Lester prepared a tribute speech which also included a compilation of words from those close to Villar.
“Casey’s tribute to Sarah was really special,” Monica said. “We know she looked up to Sarah and it was just beautiful.”
Not only was Tellez a teammate with Villar at Gilroy, but she said Villar was her best friend in high school. They played Little League ball together for several years and had some indelible moments in the process.
“All my young softball memories were sleeping over to her and stuff like that,” Tellez said.
Brandon and his older brother grew up playing baseball and had a great role model both on and off the field. After graduating from GHS, Sarah went to Sonoma State on an athletic scholarship and then to San Diego State graduate school.
She then became a doctor of physiotherapy.
“We’ve always looked up to her,” Brandon said. “When it came to working hard and putting in the hours to be a great softball player, she really showed us what it takes to take it to the next level.”
The Gilroy Foundation has established an annual Sarah Villar Scholar Athlete Scholarship which will be awarded to a graduate student of Gilroy or Christopher who is about to enter college. More details can be found at gilroyfoundation.org.
It is a fitting and lasting tribute to Villar, whose impact will continue to resonate through the stock market.
“Sarah dedicated her life to softball, and later in life she dedicated her life to supporting children and becoming a child therapist,” Brandon said.
Monica said the tribute to the Sarah Villar Memorial Game matches how she and Dave responded to their daughter’s death: they will continue to shine Sarah’s light at every opportunity.
“Dave and I have sworn to find ways to honor Sarah in a positive way instead of dwelling on the tragedy that she’s not here,” Monica said. “It doesn’t take away from the fact that our lives and our families have changed, but we’re doing everything we can to find ways to honor our daughter. Right now we’re in the process of having a golf tournament in her honor in Arizona, and we have over 130 participants in this fundraiser for her. The community here and in Gilroy has been wonderful. Just the reach of love in both communities has been incredible.
Sportswriter Emanuel Lee can be reached at [email protected]