Gilroy softball community pays tribute to former GHS standout Sarah Villar

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The Christopher and Gilroy softball players applaud Sarah Villar's loved ones as they pour dirt in the pitching circle during pregame ceremonies in the inaugural Sarah Villar Memorial Game at Gilroy High on March 22. Photo by Jonathan Natividad.

The first-ever Sarah Villar Memorial Game paid tribute to a life gone too soon.

On March 22, the Gilroy High softball team hosted Christopher High in what will be the annual Sarah Villar Memorial Game going forward. Villar is the former Gilroy High graduate who was tragically killed by a drunk driver as she was walking with her fiance along Sunnyslope Road in Hollister last June. 

The incident came just two days after the Mustangs had won the program’s fourth Central Coast Section championship. Villar was 32. 

Amid the circumstances, Gilroy coach Dusty Lester, former Mustangs coach Bria DeLorenzo, Lester’s daughter, Casey, and Christopher coach Amanda Tellez—a teammate and childhood friend of Villar’s—wanted to find a way to honor Villar for the impact she had on their lives and many others. 

In the pregame ceremony, Dusty Lester unveiled the Sarah Villar No. 5 banner that was hung on the right-field fence near the foul pole. 

“Seeing them unveil the banner in honor of Sarah, that was when it kind of really hit me,” said Brandon Villar, Sarah’s younger brother of six years. “I grew up watching my sister play softball at that field. So being able to be back there with all the girls she played with, it was a really nice experience to spend time with them and go over all the good memories we had.”

Gilroy went on to beat Christopher, 10-0, but that served as a mere footnote to what transpired in the pregame ceremony in loving remembrance of Villar.  

“The game went in our favor, but it wasn’t about the game,” Dusty Lester said. “This was about honoring Sarah and I thought it turned out really, really well.”

Lester said the pregame ceremony was rife with emotion. Villar’s parents, Dave and Monica, were in attendance, along with Brandon. They along with several of Villar’s ex-teammates formed a circle around the pitching circle and poured out bags of dirt in honor of Villar after the moment of silence. 

“It was quite emotional for everybody,” Lester said. “Dave and Monica, they were just overwhelmed and so grateful and emotional about us remembering her and how she will not be forgotten in the area. They were very overwhelmed and touched by that.”

Indeed, Dave and Monica praised the efforts of Casey and Dusty Lester, Tellez and DeLorenzo for putting the event together. Players from both teams wore specially made Sarah Villar Memorial jerseys with her No. 5 on the back during pregame warm-ups, and coaches wore the jerseys for the duration of the game. 

Dave and Monica now take up residence in Scottsdale, Ariz., but travel to the South Valley area for work throughout the year. 

“We had been in Gilroy since 1978, and developed such wonderful friendships with so many people in the community,” Monica said. “It still has a small community feel. To see so many faces we haven’t seen in years was so touching. Dave was Sarah’s softball coach and watched her grow into a wonderful softball player. She touched a lot of lives and it was great to see so many people out there to honor her. It did bring back a lot of good memories of those softball days. Being out on the field, watching her pitch and hit it over that fence that now has her logo, it was pretty special.”

Casey Lester put together a tribute speech that also featured a compilation of words from Villar’s loved ones.

“Casey’s tribute to Sarah was really special,” Monica said. “We know she looked up to Sarah and it was just beautiful.” 

Tellez not only was teammates with Villar at Gilroy, but she said Villar was her best friend in high school. They played Little League ball together for several years and had indelible moments in the process. 

“All of my young softball memories were from sleeping over at her house and stuff like that,” Tellez said. 

Brandon and his older brother grew up playing baseball and they had a great role model to follow, both on and off the field. After graduating from GHS, Sarah went to Sonoma State on an athletic scholarship and then to graduate school at San Diego State. 

She later became a Doctor of Physical Therapy.

“We always looked up to her,” Brandon said. “When it came to hard work and putting in the hours to be a great softball player, she really showed us what it took to get to that next level.”

The Gilroy Foundation has set up a yearly Sarah Villar Scholar Athlete Scholarship to be awarded to a female graduating student from Gilroy or Christopher who is set to enter college. More details can be found at gilroyfoundation.org. 

It’s a fitting and lasting tribute to Villar, whose impact will continue to resonate through the scholarship. 

“Sarah dedicated her life to softball, and later in life she dedicated her life to supporting children and becoming a child therapist,” Brandon said. 

Monica said the Sarah Villar Memorial Game tribute goes in line with how she and Dave have responded to their daughter’s death: they will continue to shine the light of Sarah at every opportunity.

“Dave and I vowed to find ways to honor Sarah in a positive way instead of dwelling on the tragedy that she’s not here,” Monica said. “It doesn’t take away the fact that our lives and families have changed, but we are doing everything we can to find ways to honor our daughter. Right now we’re in the throes of doing a golf tournament in her honor in Arizona, and we have 130-plus participating in this fundraiser for her. The community here and in Gilroy has been wonderful. Just the outreach of love in both communities has been amazing.”

A Sarah Villar memorial banner was placed on the right-field fence at Gilroy High on March 22. Photo by Jonathan Natividad.
Sarah Villar’s No. 5 was drawn into the pitching circle before the March 22 memorial game in her honor.
Addie Hulbert makes a play during the Sarah Villar Memorial Game at Gilroy High. Photo by Jonathan Natividad.

Sports editor Emanuel Lee can be reached at [email protected]

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