April is Girls Sports Month, and as part of USA TODAY High School Sports’ fourth-annual Girls Sports Monthcelebration, we’re speaking with some of the top female high school players, influential athletes, coaches and celebrities in the sports world. We will also be highlighting some of the best stories from the past year and trailblazers in girls sports.
Healing has been a long, difficult process for Ariel Arismendez, who left behind a rising boxing career more than two years ago.
In October 2016, when she was 19 and living away from home, Ariel’s sisters Audrey, 5, and Ariah, 4, were murdered by their father, who then turned the gun and killed himself in Tolleson.
It became national news, and it began the Infinite Hope Foundation that was part of Tuesday’s pregame for host Tolleson and Glendale Copper Canyon softball players as part of a presentation to raise awareness on domestic violence.
For the first time, Ariel was in front of a group — this one impressionable 14- to 18-year-old girls — speaking on behalf of the non-profit foundation that was formed in honor of Audrey and Ariah and provides an escape for kids in homes where there is domestic violence.
An Arizona State student also gave a presentation before Tolleson’s softball game, on Kaity’s Way, a non-profit corporation that promotes the importance of safe teen dating relationships and educates on how it can turn violent.
Infinite Hope Foundation, to Arismendez, not only keeps the memory of her sisters alive, but helps kids get away for a few hours to enjoy things such as going to the park, the zoo, something that helps them forget their troubles at home.
It also offers a chance for the high school athletes to volunteer with taking the kids out to have fun.
Arismendez has not returned to boxing, but she is now ready to live again, to be part of the foundation that was born from her mother and is run by her aunt.
She now has a 2-year-old son, Liam, whom she calls her “little blessing.”
“Boxing was my passion before,” she said. “Now this foundation is my passion.”
Arismendez, who was born when her mom and dad were still in high school, said she loves looking at photographs of her sisters. Those keep her going. But there is always reminders of that horrible day in 2016.
“I know by me doing this, it makes it easier on me,” she said. “Helping kids. If we weren’t there, they wouldn’t be doing something. Now we get to see happy faces on them. That’s heart-warming.
“The situation of my sisters, it’s not like the pain is ever going to go away. But this helps a little bit.”
Tuesday’s message hit home for Copper Canyon softball coach Laura Melde, who lost a college softball teammate in Minnesota to domestic violence.
“It’s very special to me because of my background with domestic violence,” Melde said. “But I teach my kids about it in the classroom. They definitely need to be knowledgeable. You don’t think it’s going to happen to you. The more knowledgeable you are, the better support you have to be able to find help.”
Misti Andrews, the Tolleson High School District Prevention Coordinator, provided pamphlets to the softball players and talked about signs of abuse and control and how to get help.
And that they’re not alone.
“It’s never too young for kids to understand that they can advocate for themselves,” Andrews said. “They have rights.
“Our kids deal with a myriad of issues. We’re committed to supporting them where they’re at, whatever they are facing, and loving the whole child.”
None of the softball players were made available for comment for this story.
Tolleson softball coach Fred Ramirez does something different every year for the players to face real-life issues. Last year, he said there was a day during the season to raise awareness about sexual harassment.
“Softball is only a small portion and is going to be short term to them,” Ramirez said. “This is something we want them to know about. There are lots of topics that need to be discussed.”
Arismendez is ready to talk, help, move on.
“After everything happened, I really shut down for about a year,” she said. “I didn’t do anything. I didn’t talk to anybody. Once I came out of my funk, that’s when I really got involved, and now I’m super involved and I want to do whatever I can to help.”