Inaugural Sam Watkins memorial soccer tournament raises $1,000 for scholarship

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Soccer players and supporters gathered at the Kilgore Soccer Association fields Saturday to remember the life of Samantha Watkins and play the game she loved.

Less than a week before the first anniversary of Samantha Watkins’ death last December, the first Samantha Watkins Memorial Scholarship Fund soccer tournament raised a little less than $1,000. Ultimately, the scholarship will be given out to a Kilgore High School graduate who shares the same spirit as Sam.

“Do they volunteer their time? Were they always the annoying cheerleader on the bench?” Sam’s mom, Barbara Watkins, said with a chuckle. “Do they do community service?” Then there will be other stipulations, just like other scholarships. A group including Chris and Dawn Gratton, KHS girls’ soccer coach Heidi Hagan and Barbara Watkins will choose the recipient.

The inaugural tournament was open for current and former soccer players 16 years old and older with the cost of entry set at $15.

Barbara expects the collection of about $1,000 to go up, she said, because T-shirts will be for sale online with that money going toward the scholarship fund also.

“I’d say we did pretty fantastic this first time around with it being Thanksgiving holiday,” Barbara Watkins said. “The support was amazing.”

Going into the weekend, she and Chris Gratton, who initially came up with the idea for a soccer tournament, had hoped to raise a few hundred dollars to put toward a scholarship, Barbara said.

Although the tournament was designed to be fun, she said, the competitiveness still came out in the athletes.

“It was just a typical soccer day,” she said.

Barbara Watkins wants to see the event grow to support scholarships for more than one KHS graduate, she said.

“The possibilities are endless,” she said. “[Sam] will be so happy that that’s what’s happening in her name because that’s her love.”

Next year, Watkins said, she also hopes to allow younger players in the tournament because many of them knew Samantha as a coach.

The way everything came together for the tournament and the outcome was typical of Sam, Barbara said.

“It was a Sam day,” she said, noting the teams were co-ed and there was laughter and fun throughout the tournament. “It was exactly the kind of soccer she enjoyed. It was great.”

It was the evening between Nov. 30 and Dec. 1 that Samantha had a seizure that deprived her brain of oxygen and blood and resulted in her spending days in the Good Shepherd Medical Center ICU before she died Dec. 4. While she was in the hospital, friends and family were a constant presence in the room and in the hallways of the hospital near her room.

“To know that people still do this because they can – nobody was forced to come in from out of town – it means so much,” Barbara Watkins said.

The support people still show for Samantha is an example of the impact she had.

“Truth is, she loved people before she met them,” Barbara said. “She didn’t care about who they were or where they were from, she just loved.”

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