Thirteen-year-old Jayson Szot has spent many weekends playing tournament baseball, and the thing he always associated with waking up early on those Saturday and Sunday mornings was the smell of his dad’s coffee.
“Everything was a rhythm for my dad,” says Jayson, a Ridge Road Middle School eighth-grader. “He would always have our stuff laid out for us. And if I forgot something, I got an earful the whole ride to the game.”
Jayson and his 18-year-old brother, Nik, are playing in a tournament this weekend that will honor the memory of their father and biggest fan, Jamie Szot, 41, who died in a motorcycle accident 2 miles from their Arbor Creek home on Aug. 13.
The Jamie Szot Memorial Baseball Tournament opened Oct. 25 and concludes Oct. 26 at Mallard Creek and North Mecklenburg High Schools. Proceeds will benefit funds set up for Nik’s and Jayson’s college educations.
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Nik, a 2014 Mallard Creek High graduate, is a freshman at Rockingham Community College. A catcher for the Mavericks last season, Szot is a utility player on RCC’s team.
Jayson lives with his mother, LeAnne, who had been legally separated from Jamie for several years before his death. Jayson and Nik lived with Jamie during the separation.
The tournament honoring Jamie was coordinated by friends of the Szot family and by Liz Coss, a Skybrook resident. She says that support emanated primarily from families whose sons played tournament baseball with the Szot boys over the past 10 years.
Any baseball team that plays in either an under-13- or under-18-year-old age division is eligible to play in the tournament because those are the age groups in which Jayson and Nik Szot are playing. Jayson plays for the North Charlotte Muckdogs while Nik has joined a team comprised mostly of players from Lake Norman Charter School just for the tournament.
Coss says the supportive families are spread between the University City and Lake Norman areas. They do not represent any organization.
The tournament is not affiliated with a baseball sanctioning body. The charitable efforts are similar to fundraising tournaments held in the area over the past couple of years by some of the same people.
In 2012, supporters held a baseball tournament to assist the family of Hough baseball player Greyson Oxidine, whose mother had been diagnosed with breast cancer.
In 2013, some of the same supporters organized a tournament in honor of Ed Ruttkamp, father of North Meck baseball players Jack and Zack Ruttkamp. Zack is now a schoolmate of Nik Szot’s at Rockingham Community College.
This year, Coss and other organizers are remembering Jamie Szot’s commitment to Jayson and Nik. He was a regular at the boys’ baseball games and sometimes helped operate the scoreboard at Mallard Creek High.
“It really is a great tribute,” said LeAnne Szot. “I can’t imagine anything more fitting.”
Ryan Resendez and Sean Ryan, head coaches at Mallard Creek and North Meck, respectively, volunteered the use of their schools’ fields and maintenance throughout the tournament.
Because all amenities are being donated, the tournament is being operated without any overhead, says Coss. Her son, Michael, played with Nik Szot on the Charlotte Stars, a youth baseball tournament team, for several years before graduating from North Meck.
Tournament co-organizer Karen Chiuchiolo says custodial accounts have each been set up for Jayson and Nik. The Mallard Creek Athletic Booster Club is assisting with the tournament and is accepting donations on the Szots’ behalf.
Nik has always worn uniform No. 21, but for the tournament he will don No. 28, the favorite number worn by Jamie when he played amateur hockey.
“He was always at our games,” said Nik. “He made sure we stayed focused. I chose his number so he doesn’t have an excuse to miss another game.”