CLIFTON PARK — Listening to the stories her parents, student-athletes and community members shared about Deanna Marie Rivers, one learns that the 17-year old was a constant source of joy and inspiration to everyone who interacted with her.
On Sunday, five-and-a-half years after a car crash on the Northway took both her own and her friend and classmate Chris Stewart’s life, Deanna’s influence continues to be felt, especially during the annual softball tournament named in her memory.
Scores of softball players converged on the fields at Clifton Common for the tournament and clinic that raises funds to benefit local youth organizations. All 61 participants sported Deanna’s number, 19, on their jerseys.
Deanna’s death came before her senior softball season at Shen.
After she died, Deanna’s parents, Debbie and Brian, knew they had to take some sort of action that would not only stand in for their daughter’s final season, but would also put the outpouring of community support they were receiving to use in a way that Deanna would have approved.
They started the Deanna Marie Rivers Foundation, which donates thousands of dollars each year to various youth-oriented organizations and coordinates the softball tournament that brings in clubs and players from all over the Capital Region.
And now, almost six years after the tragedy, sadness was not the tone of the day at the tournament.
During the opening ceremony, it was announced that the foundation raised almost $10,000 during the past year, which will benefit Big Brothers Big Sisters, the Shen High School Food Pantry, Shen’s Bountiful Backpacks Program, A Different Way In Reading Center, and Act With Respect Always.
Over the course of the last five years, the community has donated $100,000 to Shen to fund a pair of annual scholarships, one to a male student, the other to a female student, that are awarded in her name.
The donations serve as acknowledgement of the support Deanna’s family received after the accident, according to Debbie Rivers.
“Our main focus is to pay it forward,” she said. “It’s pretty special to us. It means a lot. It’s a lot of work but it’s all worth it. It just makes us so happy because we didn’t know how long it would last.”
The groups that the foundation has formed partnerships with, Brian Rivers said, stem from Deanna’s desire to be a teacher.
The Deanna Rivers’ annual 518 Memorial Softball Tournament has grown steadily over time. For the first few years, Debbie Rivers said, it was difficult to convince girls to play. Now, she said, people are lining up to participate, and with each new player comes a person her daughter had an impact on, in some way.
The anecdotes she continues to hear about her daughter tell her what she already knows: That Deanna was a person who had the time, and a smile, for everyone.
“It’ll be almost six years, and we still hear stories about how she helped kids, peers, who were sitting by themselves in the lunchroom,” she said. There were people in Sunday’s tournament, she added, pointing to some players preparing for their first game, who started to play softball after Deanna approached them about it.
“She had a way of reaching people,” Brian Rivers said. Glancing at his wife, he added,” I always say to her, ‘How did we raise a daughter who’s better than we are?’ “
Next year’s tournament, he added, will be special. Deanna’s sister, Jenna, will be a senior in school, and the foundation is looking to raise $19,000 to once again commemorate Deanna’s number.
The sunny weather on Sunday was the perfect match for a girl who, according to her father, always had a smile on her face.
“She did it. She was never miserable,” Brian Rivers said. “She always had a smile and a great attitude, every morning, every night, no matter what.”
“She had a special heart,” Debbie Rivers added. “She was one of a kind. So we just try to share what she stood for.”
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Categories: News, Schenectady County