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Weathering the storms

POSTED: December 26, 2013 5:56 p.m.
Photo by Paul Floeckher/

With 2-year-old grandson Truitt on his lap, Hugo Soto watches the Chemo Kickers team play in the softball tournament. The team included several members of his family. Sand Hill Recreation Complex recently hosted a softball and kickball tournament to raise money for his medical expenses. Soto, a youth umpire, referee and coach in Effingham County, was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer in October.

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Rainy weather couldn’t keep a crowd of friends and supporters from participating in a softball and kickball tournament to benefit Hugo Soto.

In fact, it was somewhat fitting, considering one way Soto describes his ongoing battle with cancer.

“It’s just a storm that we’re going through,” he said. “If anything, this has drawn me closer to my faith. When this happens, it rattles you, but then you know you have hope and you have to lean on God to carry you through.”

That positive attitude has helped Soto make many friends in Effingham County over the years, as has his volunteer work as a youth sports umpire, referee and coach. Several of them turned out for the fundraiser at the Sand Hill Complex, to participate, cheer on the teams or just make a donation.

Through the entry fees from 10 softball teams and four kickball teams, a silent auction, 50/50 raffle and concession stand sales, the day-long event raised money for Soto’s medical care. The goal of $5,000 was exceeded, according to Walt Lawson, one of the organizers.

“It’s been unreal,” Lawson said of the response. “When good people come together for a good cause, great things can happen. This would not have happened without many volunteers and numerous donations from people who know and care about Hugo.”

Soto, 53, was diagnosed in October with stage 4 lung cancer. He has since undergone 10 radiation treatments and two rounds of chemotherapy.

Soto said he will return to the Cancer Treatment Centers of America medical center in Newnan on Jan. 6 to undergo more tests and see how he is responding to the treatment, and “we’ll go from there.” Though the survival rate statistics for stage 4 lung cancer can be discouraging, Soto is waging his battle with his typical optimism.

“I think we’re going to be good on this,” he said. “I strongly believe that. I strongly believe God’s going to do a miracle.”

Soto’s wife Diana has been by his side, along with their five sons (ages 17 to 33), four daughters-in-law and nine grandchildren. He described Diana’s faith as “just as strong as mine.”

“We know we’re going to beat this thing,” Soto said. “I want to see the rest of my sons grown, I want to see my grandchildren grown, but I leave that up to God. Other than that, we’re just happy. We’ll take it one day at a time.”

Soto described himself as a “blessed man” to have such a large family. Several of them played in the softball tournament, on a team called the Chemo Kickers.

Soto watched every inning, often with 2-year-old grandson Truitt seated on his lap. Soto cheered the team on during the games and led them in prayer afterward.

When the team ended a turn at-bat with two strikeouts, he clapped and yelled, “Just have fun! Just have fun! That’s what it’s all about.”

On the October night he learned of Soto’s cancer diagnosis, Lawson was officiating a youth football game. Lawson said he spoke with fellow referees Darrell Dasher and Charlie Kessler, and “they immediately had the same thought I did,” to help their friend.

Effingham County Recreation and Parks teamed up with the Effingham officials to organize and host the benefit softball/kickball tournament. As Lawson explained, “We figured what we all love to do would be the best way to help him.”

“I love Hugo,” Lawson continued. “Just to see the approach that he’s taken to this .… The day after he announced to us that he had cancer, he was on Facebook asking prayer not for himself but for other people. That says something about the type person he is.”

Before the softball and kickball teams took to the soggy fields for their games, Soto took to the microphone to thank the recreation department, his fellow umpires, family, friends and everyone who turned out in support of the tournament.

“I can’t give thanks enough. From the bottom of my heart … may God continue to bless you all, and we will see you around,” Soto said to the crowd, pausing for a moment as he choked up.

“Hugo’s got a great, great attitude,” said ECRP director Clarence Morgan. “If something happened to me, if I had what he’s got, I hope I’d have the same attitude.”


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