By VERNON ROBISON
Moapa Valley Progress
A crowd of about 200 people showed up at the Moapa Valley High School baseball field on Saturday afternoon to watch an epic annual struggle. It was the traditional MVHS alumni baseball game between the current varsity baseball team – all newly-formed for the upcoming season – and an all-star cast of players from the past.
This game has been played every spring for the past ten years now. Each time it has been held in memory of two past MVHS baseball greats: BJ Robison and Shawn Sandoval. The two players passed away in 2005: Robison in a motorcycle accident and Sandoval of a sudden cardiac arrest.
“We always look forward to this game every year,” said Shawn’s mother Lorri Sandoval, who helps to coordinate the event. “I love how it brings so many people together to remember Shawn and BJ in this way. One of the things that I felt strongly about, after Shawn passed away, was that I just didn’t want him to be forgotten. This has been a great way to keep his memory alive.”
This year’s game, pitting the varsity boys against the older generation, was an action packed one. Everyone insisted that no one was really keeping score. Indeed the scoreboard was dark and no one seemed to be bothering about recording game stats. But the boys in the varsity team dugout had no problem recalling that, after eight innings of play, the score was 7-0, with their varsity team coming out on top.
Of course, there is also the question of which team has the best record in winning most of these alumni games over the years. The answer to that question varies based on which dugout you happen to be in when you ask the question.
The alumni players claim that, except for maybe the last two years, the alumni team has always bested the varsity players.
But the MVHS coaching staff remembered things a little differently. “I think maybe those guys get a little forgetful about the final scores,” said MVHS Baseball Head Coach Darin Hadley smiling. “They like to inflate the number of how many runs that they got. This year we made it easy for them. They got zero.”
Alumni player, Shannon Phillipenas expressed appreciation to the varsity team for giving his alums a challenge this year. He said that he fully enjoys coming back to participate every year in this tradition.
“It is good to get out there and play again,” Phillipenas said. “Even though it might take us a few days to recover from it.”
Phillipenas played as catcher on the same Pirate team as BJ Robison and Shawn Sandoval. Now he helps organize and plan the alumni game each year in his teammates’ honor. The game is a fundraiser for a $1000 memorial scholarship that is awarded each year to graduating Pirate baseball or softball players, Phillipenas explained.
“This alumni game gives us ‘old timers’ a chance to play a little baseball and be able to give back to the current players in the form of a scholarship to honor Shawn and BJ,” Phillipenas said.
Each alumnus that participates in the game gives a donation to the fund.
A brisk business is also done at a concession stand during the event which is organized and staffed by family members of Robison and Sandoval. On sale were hotdogs, hamburgers, chili, baked goods and other food items.
Raffle tickets are also sold for a number of great prizes donated by Overton Ace Hardware and other local businesses and individuals.
T-shirts for this years game were provided for each of the players and were on sale for fans to purchase as well. These were provided by MVHS alumni Chad Bierstadt.
Also donating their time were umpires Carl Weiss and Scott Brossier.
“We appreciate everyone coming and supporting this great event,” said Ben Robison of Overton, who is BJ’s father. “We plan to keep it going every year. When us old-timers aren’t around to do it anymore, the younger members of our families will keep it going. It has become a family tradition.”
Shawn Sandoval graduated from MVHS in 2000. In baseball, he played second base or utility infielder. After high school he was recruited to play college ball at Dakota Wesleyan University (DWU) in Mitchell, South Dakota. He played there all four years of college and graduated from the school. In January of 2005 he suddenly lost consciousness and died at the age of 25. After his death, a baseball field at DWU was dedicated to him along with a special memorial monument in his name.
BJ Robison graduated from MVHS a year later than Sandoval, in 2001. He played on the pitchers mound for the Pirates during his high school years and won the division title three years in a row. Robison was named as pitcher on both the All Division and All State teams during his senior year. He maintained a 10-0 winning record throughout his senior year until the final state championship game when the team lost in an extra inning. He died in August of 2005 in a motorcycle accident in Las Vegas. He was 23 years old.