Playing for Peaches

By Mark Baker

Photography by Reed Mattison. Originally reported in the Jackson Hole News&Guide, 2022.

DRIGGS, Idaho — Maybe she was trying to send a message?

After the thunder and lightning that canceled the final games of the 2022 Play for Peaches softball tournament here on Saturday night at Lions Park, huge raindrops, almost as big as the tears that fell, and continue to fall, for the girl they called the Georgia Peach and Curious Georgia and, sometimes, just “Peaches,” splashed from the eastern Idaho sky.

Chelsea Roberts, Georgia Durmeier’s mother, holds a bouquet the players gave her as they take pictures of the butterflies that have landed on the flowers.

There would be no championship game this year for the Teton girls 12-and-under fast-pitch softball team, despite the 2-0 lead over the Rigby Rage in Saturday night’s semifinal game when it was called. But that didn’t stop what’s become an annual post-championship tradition at the tournament that was renamed last year after Georgia Elizabeth Durmeier, a Jackson Hole native who, along with her father and his fiancee, was killed in a head-on traffic crash caused by an admittedly intoxicated driver 87 miles northwest of Las Vegas on March 27, 2021.

Just as they did last year, Georgia’s teammates released butterflies provided by Georgia’s mother, Chelsea Roberts, a 2003 Jackson Hole High School graduate, into the summer air from the outfield at Driggs City Park. But this time they just did it a day later, on Sunday afternoon, a day after what would have been this year’s championship game if not for some bad weather.

“I just want to thank everyone,” Roberts began before pausing and struggling to continue as she dabbed tears with a napkin she was clutching in her right hand. “Keeping Georgia’s spirit alive ... it would mean so much to her. And it means a lot to me. You all just loved and accepted her.”

In Greek mythology, butterflies represent the soul. And in some cultures, butterflies represent rebirth. For Roberts, they simply represent “a release,” she said.

For the second straight year she ordered them from a Florida company and had them shipped to her mother’s home in Rexburg, Idaho. Last year, three months after Georgia, the smallest player on the Teton fast-pitch squad, was killed, the girls released the butterflies from different colored envelopes after losing the championship game of the tournament that used to be called Tribes of the Tetons.

“It was really cool,” said one of Georgia’s former teammates, Jimmi Williamson. And, just like this year, a bit overwhelming. 

“It was really, really hard,” said Teton player Kara Webster, who had known Georgia since the third grade. “I thought that it wasn’t true,” she said of her friend’s death. “But it was.”

As Kara talked her teammate Megan Strong began to weep and they embraced on a bench by the park’s baseball diamond. All of the girls are entering the eighth grade at Teton Middle School, as Georgia would have, this fall.

Renaming the two-day tournament that’s played in parks in both Driggs and nearby Victor for “Peaches” — who got her nickname when she was 8 years old from former coach Mindy Clinton to distinguish between two Georgias on that year’s team — was the idea of current coach Brent Douglass, Roberts said.

“I think it’s a great honor to Georgia, to ‘Peaches,’ and the person that she was,” Douglass told about 40 players, parents, other family members and fellow coaches Sunday, as he began to cry. “I got a lot of comments about how this is a good memorial, and a lot of teams just love to come and play. And this is a good reminder of why we do it, why we play this game. She was a sweetheart and she loved softball.”

As for why she tabbed Georgia “Peaches,” other than the obvious connection to the state symbol of Georgia, Clinton said at Sunday’s butterfly release: “OK, little girl. You’re so cute and so tiny and so squishy, I’m calling you Peaches. She was just a little spitfire and so amazing. She had such a special place in my heart.”

Georgia was on spring break with her father, Roberts’ ex-husband Michael Durmeier, 39, of Driggs, and his fiancee, Lauren Starcevich, 38, also of Driggs, and Georgia’s younger brother, Jackson, then nine days shy of 11, and Starcevich’s daughter, Emerson, then 6, when the crash happened.

According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, which conducted a months-long investigation of the crash for which Tyler Kennedy, 33, now faces a possible 60 years in prison when sentenced on July 19 in Nye County, Nevada, Michael Durmeier was driving Starcevich’s 2011 Toyota Highlander southbound on U.S. Highway 95 a few minutes before 4 p.m. that Saturday when Kennedy’s northbound Ford F-150 pickup swerved into their path at an estimated 90 mph. Photos published by the Review-Journal show that Starcevich’s totaled SUV landed upside-down while the left side of Kennedy’s pickup was almost sheared off.

Jackson, who was ejected from the vehicle and suffered unknown brain trauma, according to his mother, celebrated his 11th birthday last year in a Nevada hospital. Emerson suffered a broken wrist. Roberts is suing the Nye County Sheriff’s Office, according to the Review-Journal, for failing to perform sobriety tests on Kennedy about 2½ hours before the crash. Deputies had responded to a report of alleged shots fired at an RV Park on Highway 95 about 1:20 p.m. The manager of the RV Park alleged that Kennedy drove into the park, started an altercation and took a shot at him. Deputies found Kennedy across the highway at the Area 51 Alien Center Store where, according to the Las Vegas newspaper, he was smoking fentanyl.

The deputies who responded questioned Kennedy, determined his cellphone was mistaken for a gun, threw his drugs in the trash and let him go, according to the Review-Journal.

“Obviously, I want to see the cops punished,” Roberts said. “They should have arrested him and none of this would have happened.”

Kennedy, who pleaded guilty this past March to three counts of DUI causing death, according to the Review-Journal, said as much himself at a preliminary hearing: “They should have not let me go because a lot of the blame is going to be on them. If they would have arrested me, like they should have, the accident never would have happened. People never would have died.”

Georgia was born in Jackson on Oct. 8, 2008. Before she was even a year old, her parents would move to West Memphis, Arkansas, where her father grew up, and marry there. In 2014, shortly before Georgia started kindergarten, they moved to Driggs. Chelsea Roberts, 37, and Michael Durmeier, divorced in 2017 but remained friends.

Georgia, whose mother called her “Liz,” for her middle name Elizabeth, dreamed of attending the University of Arkansas and playing softball, the sport she came to love starting with T-ball at age 6. She also wanted to go to medical school and become an emergency room doctor, her mother said. As a baby she had the MRSA staph infection and had a great appreciation for her doctors as she grew older, Roberts said.

“She was smart,” her mother said. “School was her thing.” School and softball and, of course, skiing in Jackson Hole. She learned on the slopes of Snow King and then got a season pass every year, for seven straight years, at Grand Targhee, said Roberts, who has “Georgia Elizabeth” tattooed on her right forearm as well as her daughter’s last whiteboard message — “I love you — Liz,” tattooed on her upper left thigh.

To her former teammates, Georgia was just Georgia. Their smallest teammate in stature but their largest in life — and death. She wore No. 1 (her jersey goes wherever the team goes) and she’s still No. 1 in their hearts.

“She was really fun,” Jimmi said. “She was an awesome player.”

Added Jaycee Douglass, the coach’s daughter: “She was very uplifting. Whenever you were down she’d bring you up. She was daring, too.”

Jaycee remembered Georgia sticking up for her once when someone was giving her a hard time. Georgia held Jaycee back, cautioning her that it wasn’t worth it. But then it was Jaycee who had to hold Georgia back.

“She never put up with anybody’s crap,” former teammate Adeline Hansen said, bluntly, as the other girls laughed.

But then it was time for another butterfly release, those black-and-gold monarchs and orange-and-black painted ladies waiting patiently in those triangle-shaped envelopes labeled “We play for Peaches” that were nestled in a peach-colored bucket.

“I’m just really proud of all you girls, and I can’t thank you enough for being her friend, her teacher,” Roberts told them. “I know you all loved her a lot, because all of this just really means a lot to me and the community. I feel all the love. And Jackson does, too. And we thank you for everything.”

Using Format