MELISSA — “Play ball!” and the crack of a bat announced the arrival of Saturday morning, May 27, as the seventh-annual Melissa Education Foundation softball tournament swung into action. A full complement of 16 teams signed on for this friendly slate of competition for a good cause at Zadow Park. It was well underway by 8 a.m. The all-day fundraiser had plenty more than softball too: Tents went up near the competition fields, a children’s area featured jump houses and face-painting, snow cones were on-hand and a well-stocked concession stand was open for business.

Of course, besides good fun, this day was ultimately about supporting education in Melissa through the auspices of the MEF. And these teams, with their entry fees — plus a multitude of sponsors — did just that. To keep everyone’s eye on the prize, banners were displayed at the two fields in use, Skyler and Sydney, which listed individual scholarships awarded by the MEF in recent years. And there were lots of them.

The MEF is a non-profit organization committed to providing scholarships to graduating Melissa seniors as well as grants to MISD educators in need of funding for special projects. Since its inception in 2005, the MEF has awarded over $480,000 in scholarships and grants.

This day, George James and Kenny Deel alternated in providing play-by-play commentary behind home plate at Sydney Field. James is president of the MEF board and Melissa’s school board.

“All of Melissa is incredibly committed to our kids,” James said. “We’re a very, very kid-centered town. Even from a school-board perspective — the community has always supported us in everything that we did. And here it is, Memorial Day weekend, and we’ve got 16 teams playing in a softball tournament — people showing up at 6 o’clock in the morning on a Saturday. They’re just all about the kids, and having fun and trying to raise a little money. … The vast majority of our money goes to scholarships,” he said.

The pace of play was brisk, with a truncated game-format employed: Batters stepped to the plate with a 3-2 count and contests were limited to 30 minutes. This ensured the tournament was completed by around 6 p.m.

“We really like the event,” MEF Executive Director Kellie Maynard said, “because it not only brings out the players but it brings out the community. We’ll have probably 250 to 300 people that come through here, just to kind of hang out for the day. It’s really just a fun family event. … MEF is about raising money, yes, but it’s also about being in the community and helping raise awareness, and showing how much we love our city.”

Over the years, Maynard says she’s had the opportunity to speak with other cities’ booster clubs and civic groups.

“They’re like, ‘How does Melissa do it? How is your foundation so big?’ And I say, ‘It’s just, community-supports-community.’ I’ve never seen it any other place. And as we get bigger and bigger, the support seems to be bigger and bigger too. … We are here to solely support Melissa ISD teachers and students. We just had our Scholarship Night and we gave out over $80,000 to about 35 students.”

The MEF’s largest annual fundraiser is its Gala and Casino Night at Mitas Hill Vineyard in October, Maynard said. There’s also the organization’s popular winter fundraiser, Donkey Basketball. In addition to these events, the MEF garners great support from individual community members, religious groups and businesses.

“For this size of town, it’s really done well,” she said of the Foundation.

A host of community volunteers assist Maynard, meeting monthly to plan and discuss upcoming events and ways to keep awareness alive.

Concerning the scholarship process, James said student applications are reviewed by an independent council of Melissa residents, who make selections based on approved criteria.

“In addition to the Melissa Education Foundation scholarships,” he said, “there’s also a lot of individuals that are incredibly generous, and they’ll give a $5,000 scholarship here or a thousand-dollar scholarship here. Even the little Christian Church in town, all year long they make crafts … and they have a big bazaar. They take all that money and do a scholarship.”

James also noted the key efforts of local civic groups and businesses in ensuring success for Melissa education.

Back to the softball: In a thrilling championship finale, Redden Concrete’s team, Yeah Boy Cowboy, prevailed, 15-14, over LaCore Enterprise’s Hit That Pitch. James presented the first-place trophy to triumphant Yeah Boy Cowboy to conclude the day’s events.