Softball tournament helps veterans

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COLUMBIA - From firefighters to repairmen, more than 600 people exchanged uniforms this weekend to support those who have served this country.

The fourth annual Home Runs for Heroes Softball Tournament has raised more than $10,000 this year alone to send veterans to Washington, D.C to see the memorials of the wars in which they served.

While many participants carry heavy hearts as they play for family members who have served, for one team it means even more.

"It shows how much respect everybody has for everyone who has served throughout the years," Air Force veteran and Midwest Nomad Shaun Hampton said.

The Midwest Nomads are a softball team made up mostly of active servicemen and veterans.

"This is my third year in a row playing in this tournament so it's one of the tournaments I make myself available to play for every year," Air Force Staff Sgt. Patrick Whelan said.

"We're not playing for ourselves, we're playing for the people who served before us," Senior Airman and Midwest Nomad Daniel Comer said.

Whelan's father, Tony Riley, served eight years in the United States Marine Corps and is now the Nomads' third base coach.

"It means so much," Riley said. "The way people greet you around now and thank you, it's nice."

All of the money donated or spent at the tournament goes to the Central Mo Honor Flight, which sends veterans to Washington, D.C.

One participant in his first year at the tournament said the scoreboard does not indicate the true winners.

"It's the veterans," Aaron Cox said. "I think they're the big winners. Luckily, I think we're here to have a good time for them."

Standing alongside a fellow veteran watching the tournament, John Ryan said Honor Flight had given him the opportunity to see the war memorials.

"I've seen them all because of Honor Flight," Ryan said.

Ryan said he still recalls the trip.

"And the day that was spent-- leaving early, landing in Baltimore, being greeted by a singular group of highly intelligent naval cadets that are there for special training. And when you see young men like that, you don't worry for the future," Ryan said.

"And the best part is this guy has ended up with a lifelong friend," Ryan said.

As for the Nomads' coach, Riley struggled to put into words what seeing the memorials would mean to him.

"A lot. I can't-I don't know what to say, but a lot," Riley said.

It costs about $300 for each veteran to make the trip, so the funds raised could send more than 30 veterans to Washington, D.C. to see the memorials.