CASA GRANDE — Parades have become a new way to show support during the COVID-19 pandemic.

With social distancing and a limited number of people required at gatherings, high schools have had to come up with creative ways to honor their seniors.

Members of the Vista Grande softball community came together Saturday to celebrate the team’s only senior, Karissa Ortega, with a surprise parade.

“I didn’t know about any of this,” Ortega said. “I’m surprised. It was heartwarming too. It was honestly really special to see all my family, my friends, my teammates and my coaches. To not have a graduation and for this to be kind of like a replacement, it filled my heart up.”

Vista Grande assistant coach Victoria Belloc coordinated the event, and it was up to Ortega’s family to get her to a park near her house without suspecting anything.

“They told me my sister was getting a car, so I thought we were getting a car for my sister, that’s why we came here,” Ortega said.

Belloc said coordinating the whole event took about a month, and there was constant messaging to make sure everyone attended to make Ortega’s day special.

“I just realized that she missed out on a lot, and I thought about my senior year and this is kind of what I looked forward to, the end of my senior year,” Belloc said. “She deserved it. She’s a great kid, and she put in her time for the school and our program, and it was the least we could do for her.”

Ortega spent her entire high school career with the Spartans and racked up a .275 average, .341 slugging percentage and an .894 fielding percentage as an infielder, having spent time behind the plate, in addition to third base and first base.

“She was a good athlete to work with,” Spartans coach Rudy Valenzuela said. “She always wanted to learn, she was very knowledgeable about softball and wanted to learn. She was a very quiet individual, she had a lot of potential to be a great leader, but whenever I needed her to get the girls together, she would.”

Valenzuela was disappointed about not finishing the 2020 season and giving Ortega the senior night she deserved.

“It was heartbreaking to have the season canceled, but there was really nothing we could have done,” Ortega said. “Senior night would have been more than perfect, being on the field with my teammates and being able to experience that. But we just have to make the best of this and stay safe and healthy.”

Saturday’s celebration didn’t include the softball diamond, the competition or the crowd surrounding the backstop that go along with the senior night tradition, but a community still came together to celebrate the lone Vista Grande senior.

“We’re blessed to be able to have the community that we have, and it meant everything to be able to do this for her,” Belloc said. “Especially because she’s the only one, so she’s kind of going through this alone, and we just wanted to make sure that she didn’t feel like she was alone, that we were here for her.”

While Ortega would enjoy the opportunity to continue playing softball in college, her main focus is on academics, as she plans to attend Arizona State University.

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Maria Vasquez is a reporter covering Eloy, Arizona City and sports. She can be reached at mvasquez@pinalcentral.com.

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