A bolt of hope

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By Dan Johnson

Debbie and Mike Betts didn’t want to leave the house.


They hadn’t been to the baseball field all season, and weren’t sure they could handle the swings in emotion that surely awaited them.


Still, in the end, the Betts’ knew they should be at Clement Park on April 6.


After all, Michael and Cora — two of the couple’s four children — would’ve wanted it that way.


When the Betts’ did arrive at the ball field, what they witnessed was something out of a Hollywood script.


The Chatfield Thunderbolts, the host team of the tournament which featured close to 70 teams, were playing — and winning — the 14-year-old AA championship game. After some tense moments in the final inning, the Thunderbolts won 6-5.


The team celebrated the win, and then gathered near home plate to be awarded their trophies. The presenter of the trophy just happened to be Mike Betts.


Betts was asked by the Thunderbolts to perform this honor before the tournament began. Not many expected the Thunderbolts to be playing in, let alone winning, the championship game.


Yet that’s exactly what they did and perhaps it was only fitting, seeing as though the tournament was re-named the Michael and Cora Betts Legacy Tournament.


Michael, 14, and younger sister Cora, 4, were tragically killed in a car accident in Nebraska in January. Michael was a student at Falcon Bluffs Middle School and was a member of the Thunderbolts prior to his passing.


“Baseball was always Michael’s sport,” Mike Betts said. “We knew we’d go watch the team play at some point, but what we didn’t know when we finally went to a game was all the things the team was doing to honor Michael’s memory.


“It really blew us away.”


At the beginning of the season, the Thunderbolts, a member of the South Jeffco Sports Association’s baseball league, sewed No. 13 patches (Michael’s number) on the left side of their uniform on the chest area. The team also chose to break every team huddle with the chant “One, two three, Michael!,” or “One, two, three, Betts!”


“It’s brought us a lot closer. We play a lot harder,” said Daniel Edwards, a member of the Thunderbolts team. “The first few games of the year were the hardest because we all missed Michael, but we knew he’d want us to try and play our best, and that’s what we’re doing.”


And, that’s what they did in the Michael and Cora Betts Legacy Tournament. Many players admitted that the team had never played so well for such a long stretch.


A little luck also factored in.


Tyler McHugh, a freshman at Chatfield Senior High School (the other kids all attend Falcon Bluffs), had a ball hit him smack dab in the chest during one of the games. But, not just any spot on his chest. No, the ball hit him directly on the spot where his No. 13 patch was located.


“A few inches either way and I’m probably hurt real bad,” McHugh said. “For it to hit me right there on the patch, showed me that Michael was watching over us.”


McHugh echoed the feelings and thoughts of his fellow teammates when asked to describe how he reacted when he heard the news of Michael and Cora’s passing.


“I just sat against the side of our house for 30 minutes,” McHugh said. “I was stunned and couldn’t believe that they were really gone. You always hear stories like that, but never expect it to happen to someone you know.”


All of Michael’s teammates say they’ll miss his sense of humor and his passion for the game.


“He was the class-clown,” Connor Ortiz said. “He would do things to make everyone laugh, but he never crossed the line to the point where he’d get in trouble for it.


“I don’t think there’s anyone on the team or in school that would say anything bad about Michael. He was outgoing and a good friend.”


McHugh’s mother, Heidi, was instrumental in getting the Directors Tournament renamed to the Michael and Cora Betts Legacy Tournament. After getting the blessing of the Betts family, Heidi McHugh wrote a letter to the South Jeffco Sports Association, asking them to help the Thunderbolts honor Michael and Cora.


The SJSA allowed the name change, and it won’t just be for this season. From this point forward, the tournament will be known by its new name.


“I think it’s great,” Debbie Betts said. “In situations like this, you really see how much people really do care for one another.”


Whether it be meal donations from fellow members of their church or their homeowner’s association; letters from strangers and visits from Mike’s boss who lives on the East Coast, the outpouring of support has been more than the family can ask for.


Now, the Betts’ are looking to give something back to the community.


They realize not everyone involved in a tragedy has the same support system they do. So, they have put together the Michael and Cora Betts Legacy Foundation to help those people.


A good portion of money donated will go towards Judy’s House. Debbie Betts is also looking into how to organize a way to get the stuffed teddy bear dolls – given out by State Troopers – to more children, as they were a big help to the couple’s two surviving children, Aspen, 12 and PJ, 21 months.


“A website is being developed that will have Michael and Cora’s story on there, and will provide links for people to make donations,” Mike Betts said.


A golf tournament, a limited-edition skateboard with designs of Michael’s favorite things and a princess tea party are also in the works.


Along the way towards healing, the Betts family has experienced times when they’ve felt Michael and Cora in their presence.


They said they have no doubt Michael was watching over the action on the baseball field during the tournament, willing his teammates on to victory. Mike and Debbie attended a concert over St. Patrick’s Day and Debbie says that during one of the songs, she could sense Cora standing right next to her.


“Nothing prepares you for something like this,” Mike Betts said. “You try and cope with it the best you can. We’ve been blessed in many ways since the accident. We have our good days and bad days. I think putting a lot of time and effort into the foundation has really helped our family.


“We will never forget Michael and Cora, and this foundation is a way to always honor them.”