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Memorial Kickball Tournament Wrap Up

By Jenny Fedewa

On March 24th, 2021, our lives were changed forever. The youngest of 10 siblings, John Edward Hillis II, 30 years old committed suicide. John was diagnosed with schizophrenia as a teen and battled the disease for 12+ years. He was a true outdoorsman. He enjoyed blacksmithing, forging, and building his shed at the house. He was known as “Grizzly” to many and loved ‘Merica and all things such. Most of all, John loved spending time with his family and friends and playing with his nieces and nephews.

There were many tears shed and so many stories shared. It was obvious that John is loved and missed by so many so it didn’t take long for us to realize that we needed to find a way to celebrate him. John’s favorite childhood game was kickball and even as an adult he would play with his nephews in the backyard. For that reason, we decided that a kickball tournament was the classiest way to get everyone together to both honor his memory while raising money for a great cause. The Hillis family decided to donate all proceeds from this fundraiser to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). This organization was chosen because NAMI provides education and support to families and individuals affected by mental illness.

In the beginning stages the goals were to raise $5000 and get at least 12-15 teams. We knew this was a steep goal, especially for an inaugural event but decided to take on the task. Jenny Hillis Fedewa, John’s sister, has done event planning professionally for years in different capacities. While never organizing a kickball tournament, she was confidant the outcome would be a success. Each expectation was met and then exceeded.

The kickball tournament, which was held on September 25th was a hit! There were 25 teams of 8 registered to play. Another 50+ come to cheer on their favorite teams, partake in the amazing raffle, or enjoy some delicious tacos from Maria’s Taco Truck. Maria’s Taco’s partnered with the event and donated back 100% of the proceeds plus some; presenting the tournament with a check of $1000.00. Reaching out for sponsorships was so well received. There were 24 sponsoring businesses and many, many donations for the event raffle. The raffle consisted of 26 incredible gift baskets, gift certificates and other amazing prizes. The generosity shown was heartwarming, to say the least.

The day began with a beautiful rendition of Chris Stapleton’s “Broken Halos” and the “Star Spangled Banner”, both sang by Jonathan Bair, brother in law to John. Kickball games began at 10:30 and proceeded until approximately 6:00pm. The raffle prizes and cash money drawings were done at 5pm, with the championship round immediately following. The championship round was underway when the highlight of the day occurred. A bald Eagle soared above the field. It soared directly over the last game of the day, dipping down gracefully a few times. John was there. It was obvious to all. This was the perfect way for him to say “I am here, I am ok, and I am soaring high!” It was truly a sight to see!

Donating this money in John’s honor and loving memory will help others, just as John always did. The John “Grizzly” Hillis Inaugural Kickball Tournament raised a total of $8024.74. The check will be presented to Kevin Fischer, Executive Director of NAMI Michigan on Tuesday October 12th at the home of John Sr. and Diane Hillis, where John II presided. The presentation will take place in the memorial garden which Diane, John’s mom has put together in her son’s honor.

This was quite an impressive first year!! Years to come are promising great things! The 2022 kickball tournament will be held on September 17, 2022, again in Portland, MI at the Bogue Flats. ONLY 32 teams can participate. Contact Jenny Fedewa at to pre-register your team or for sponsorship opportunities.

There are a dozen NAMI affiliates throughout Michigan, including Lansing and Grand Rapids. For more information about this alliance, please visit


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