AZTEC — Matthew Bardwell died in 1997 after a two-year battle with leukemia when he was a freshman at Aztec High school, and a local group hopes to honor his memory by playing the sport he loved.
Ryan Lane, a local attorney, reconnected with Bardwell's mother and wanted to help do something to honor his childhood friend.
As a result, in 2012, Lane created The Matthew Bardwell Scholarship Fund and decided to use baseball, a sport Bardwell loved, to raise money for the scholarship.
Now, for the second time, players will take the field at C.V. Koogler Middle School on Saturday for a morning of baseball between Aztec High's varsity team and a team of the school's alumni baseball players from various graduating classes. The teams will play in the Second Annual AHS Alumni Baseball Game and raise money for the scholarship.
At last year's game, the nonprofit group raised approximately $8,500, providing the foundation to help Aztec students with college scholarships.
Earlier this month, two graduating seniors from Aztec High and one from Vista Nueva High were awarded scholarships of $2,000 each.
The students were chosen from a pool of 15 applicants.
The nonprofit group's board enlisted the help of three educators to select the winning applicants based on graduating seniors' financial need, academic achievement, a personal essay and letters of recommendation.
One of those selected was Kayli Farmer, 17, who graduated third in her class at Aztec High and wants to be a physical therapist. She plans to attend New Mexico State University in Las Cruces this fall to study kinesiology before going on to medical school.
"A counselor at school told me about the fund," Farmer said. "I had heard about Matthew and how athletic and involved he was. I was surprised when I won."
Farmer, a varsity track and field athlete and active in her 4-H club, is grateful for the scholarship help and hopes to help others, she said.
Lane said he is encouraged by the show of support at last year's game and hopes the fund continues to help more students afford college. He said the group also hopes to establish an endowment in Bardwell's name, if it can raise enough money.
"One of our goals is to create a self-sustaining endowed scholarship," Lane said. "The endowment will outlive us, is the idea behind it. To continue to provide scholarships to future students from Aztec. That's our hope."
Though it's been 17 years since Tracie Grace, Bardwell's mother, lost her son, she is heartened by the outpouring of support she says she continues to receive.
"What I tried to convey was that Matthew was an inspiration for many including myself and the scholarship recipients this year embodied that spirit," she said.
Grace sees the scholarships as a way to honor her son's memory. She presented an award to a winning senior at Vista Nueva High School earlier this month.
"Matthew's nature was such that he didn't want people to feel sympathetic for him. He wasn't defined by his circumstances and that's something that we can all learn from," Grace said.
She wants to help more students attend college next year. Plans are in the works for a frisbee ultimate tournament and a possible 5K run/walk, she said.
"We're from Aztec. I've lived there for 40 years off and on. It kills me that only a couple kids won, so many were deserving," she said.
"I think Matthew's smiling down on all of this, going, 'This is awesome,'" she added, "This is what small towns can do. What they show is possible."
IF YOU GO
What: Second 2nd Annual AHS Alumni Baseball Game
When: 10 a.m. Saturday
Where: Varsity baseball field at C.V. Koogler Middle School, 455 N. Light Plant Road, Aztec
Cost: Free. Donations are accepted at the gate. Concessions will be available.
More info: Go to mbmsf.org. Another site, gofundme.com/mattbardwellmemorialfund, has also been established to accept donations for to raise money for scholarships.