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Portage softball hosts its fourth annual “Under the Lights” Easter egg hunt Saturday on the school’s football field.

Four age groups of children 12 years old and younger will be released onto the gridiron to grab as many plastic eggs filled with candies and prizes as they can.

“They light up when they get on that field,” Senior left fielder Madison Perez said. “My favorite is to watch the younger kids. We have a hard time keeping them from going before we actually let them because they’re so excited. Honestly, it’s amazing.”

The event, which coaches say is mostly organized and run by players, started when the team was looking for an idea for a fundraiser that didn’t require players to go door to door asking for donations from neighbors and businesses. Fall and winter sports already make those rounds.

Assistant coach Michele Pickering raised the idea of an Easter egg hunt because softball is played in the spring.

“This is our way to kind of give back to the community and teach the kids about community service,” Pickering said. “I think it’s doubled in size every year that we’ve done it, which is amazing.”

Coach Joylyn Ichiyama said the first egg hunt drew about 50 children. The Indians pre-sold 300 tickets this year and expect a couple hundred more at the gate.

“We stress for our kids to be successful on the field, in the classroom and out in the community,” Ichiyama said. “We want them to obviously excel in softball for their high school season, but most of them are not going to go on and play college-level softball. We want them to go on and be productive citizens once they leave our program.”

The Indians will dot the football field with 18,221 eggs — up about 2,000 from last year’s total. To meet the demand, egg-stuffing sessions started almost as soon as tryouts ended on March 4, Perez said.

Players got together after practice to add candy to each egg, tape it up and add it to the pile. Sometimes the Portage Honor Society would help out. Coaches, friends and family chip in, too.

“We get to spend all that time together and kind of bond together before the season actually starts,” Perez said. “I know things about the underclassmen that I probably wouldn’t, even with my teammates I’ve been with for two or three years. We sit there and stuff eggs, sometimes we order food. It’s just a good way to connect to each other and our coaches. It makes us more of a bonded team.”

Perez said one of the goals is to keep the hunt accessible. The prices are designed to be affordable: It costs $3 per child to participate. Hot chocolate will be available, too.

Gift basket auctions and a 50/50 raffle are also part of the event. Pickering said donations came from McColly Real Estate, the Porter County Sheriff’s Department, Chick-fil-A, the Portage High School Athletic Booster Club, Texas Roadhouse, Bam Pizza and Anthony Abegg of Manoco Blue, among others.

“The kids do a really good job with this. They really do. It’s pretty much all them,” Pickering said. “We just kind of point them in the right direction.”

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