By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Christmas in June?
Turlock athletes receive belated gift from Santa
Letters to santa hailey and sandra
Letters to Santa Charity founder Justin Crone presents Turlock High wrestler Hailey Ward (left) and Turlock High boxer Sandra Tovar (right) with donations from the nonprofit to help the athletes continue their respective competitive careers. - photo by Contributed

The Letters to Santa Charity is well-known for keeping the magic of Christmas alive every December by making sure every child has a present to open, but recently, two standout female athletes from Turlock felt the spirit of Santa Claus in June when the organization gifted them with funds to help make their athletic dreams come true.

Turlock High School students Sandra Tovar and Hailey Ward may only be entering their junior years of high school, but already the dominant athletes have made names for themselves.

Tovar, the nation’s No.1 ranked boxer in the 106-pound youth division, recently captured Gold at the 2018 AMBC Youth Continental Championships in Colorado Springs, Colorado — her first international competition of 2018, and just one of countless boxing titles the teen has amassed over the years. She’s also a member of USA Boxing’s Youth National Team and has been tirelessly raising funds to attend the Junior Olympics in Charleston, West Virginia next week.

Ward too has been raising funds for a trip of her own to Fargo, North Dakota, to compete in the 2018 Freestyle Nationals wrestling tournament. As a sophomore at THS, Ward took home fifth place at the California Interscholastic Federation Wrestling Championships and cemented her place as one of the state’s top wrestlers. That same year she was crowned Sac-Joaquin Section Masters Champion for the second time; she also achieved the feat in 2017.

We see our outstanding female student athletes going big places and we don’t want anything to hold them back.
Justin Crone

When Letters to Santa Charity president and Turlock resident Justin Crone saw the two hard-working athletes raising funds for their respective trips, he knew there was something he could do to help. The charity recently began setting aside funds for donations other than Christmas presents, Crone said, and after taking the issue to the Letters to Santa Charity Board, they unanimously elected to extend a helping hand to the two athletes, awarding them $1,000 each.

“This year we really wanted to find those unique and special cases out there that we could step up and help,” Crone said. “The Board and I…we just don’t want to see something that’s so special maybe miss their opportunity.”

Crone met Tovar while she was volunteering for Letters to Santa and has been following her boxing career since. He’s helped her out with things before, Crone said, but knew he could truly make an impact when he saw that Tovar needed help getting to West Virginia.

“Everyone knows who Sandra is,” Crone said. “They’re constantly fundraising and trying to do what they can to get her where she needs to be.”

Crone has been able to watch plenty of Ward’s wrestling career and came up as a wrestler himself, he said. She’s “something special,” he added, and expects her to wow at the tournament in Fargo.

This is the first time the Letters for Santa Charity has given individual gifts to athletes, and Crone said he couldn’t have picked a better pair to award the money to: female athletes who have found astronomical success in sports typically dominated by men.

“They’re not only great girls, but they’re doing something that is so unique,” Crone said. “And they’re not just doing it — they’re excelling at it.”

Most recently, Ward participated in the Women’s National Tournament in Texas in an attempt to qualify for the world team, her coach Lucas Solarez said. However, she tweaked her ankle and was unable to perform at the best of her ability, coming up just one match short of placing. She hopes to redeem herself in Fargo July 12-20 and is grateful for the donation that is helping her get there.

“I started crying when I found out about the money because it means that I went through so much and it’s all been worth it,” Ward said. “It’s amazing that people are watching how much work I put in and are supportive of me.”

Tovar last week won yet another boxing tournament; this time, the WBC Green Belt Challenge in Whittier. Next, she will head to West Virginia June 24-30, thanks in part to the Letters for Santa Charity donation and will then fly international to Hungary for the Youth World Amateur Boxing Championships.

“The donation was such a big blessing,” Tovar said. “It’s nice to see that they’re trying to help out athletes.”

“We see our outstanding female student athletes going big places and we don’t want anything to hold them back,” Crone said.