The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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September 13, 2012

Ceremony marks groundbreaking for Miracle League Field

JOPLIN, Mo. — Shyness overcame Gavin Newby as his mother, Alisha Wynne, carried him to the podium Thursday at the Joplin Athletic Complex.

Gavin was supposed to do the talking, but on the way to the microphone he hid his face in his mother’s shoulder. “You do it,” he told her. She encouraged him to speak, but he held back. She delivered the message:

Unless a person has comforted a child who couldn’t run or handle a baseball like other kids or sat in the stands of a ball field with a disabled child who wanted so much to play ball like his or her brother, “you don’t understand what this means to me and my family.”

Gavin gathered enough courage from her words to deliver his message. “Thank you,” he told the crowd with a big smile.

Gavin is one of the local children who will be able to play baseball next spring, thanks to that crowd — the members of which are members of Joplin’s Rotary clubs and other interested residents who celebrated Thursday the groundbreaking of a Miracle League Field and playground for disabled children to be built at the complex. It is funded by donations.

Jenny Hocker, of Keller Williams Realty, was president-elect of the Daybreak Rotary Club when she made the pitch for the project.

She said the idea came to her five years ago when she and her husband were watching a television show about a Miracle League elsewhere. The Daybreak club was looking for a long-term project and made the catch when she fielded the idea to build a Miracle League field here, she said. She didn’t know how it could be done because of the cost, but the club kept tossing the ball around. She said that on May 22, 2011, when a EF-5 tornado destroyed a third of the city, Rotarians from around the world responded with aid, many providing cash donations. The two Joplin Rotary clubs took in $358,000. They gave some of the money to Rotary members who lost homes or businesses in the twister. They donated to other local charities and agreed to build a Habitat for Humanity house.

“But we wanted to do something special for Joplin,” Hocker said. It was decided that the Miracle League project would hit a home run.

Fellow Rotarian Mark Norton had raised his son, Will, to believe in and practice the Rotary motto “Service Before Self.” Will Norton died in the tornado minutes after graduating from Joplin High School, and the field will be named in his memory because of his devotion to helping other people.

“It is my great hope this field will change as many lives as Will did,” Hocker said.

The Miracle League started in Rockdale, Ga., in 1997 when a youth baseball coach invited the disabled brother of one of his players to play the game. It has grown to include 200,000 disabled children in 250 leagues across the U.S., Canada and several other countries, said Kevin Welch, master of ceremonies at the groundbreaking. A Miracle League field is built flat to accommodate wheelchairs, walkers and other disability aids.

Joe Craigmile, an ambassador of the Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce, told the crowd that chamber members have cut many ribbons in the past year as businesses rebuild from the tornado and new ones open. “I know this is the most special we’ve had,” he said, pausing to choke back tears.

He spoke of losing the bright, young Norton. “I hope this will bring a smile to the hearts of the Norton family,” he said. “Let’s make this one of the brightest shining stars Joplin has to offer.”

The city is providing the land for the field next to Wendell Redden Stadium at the athletic complex.

The cost of the project is $495,185, which is to be paid with donations. Contributions are still being accepted for the project. The fund also includes money donated by KW Cares, which collects contributions from those affiliated with Keller Williams real estate offices.

In addition to the ball field, a playground suitable for children with disabilities will be constructed.

Equipment for the playground is to include two slides, and a number of panels with handholds, periscopes, storefronts and bells. Also planned are swings with harnesses, belts and bucket seats to accommodate a variety of special needs, and sensory play swings such as a wheelchair glider.

Bill Scearce, Joplin’s mayor pro tem, said that as a former president of the Jasper County Sheltered Facilities Board, “I know how many disabled children there are here, and this will give all the children of Joplin a place to participate in the activities that go on here.”

It’s a hit with kids, too.

Norton’s young cousin, Dillon Presslor, who led the Pledge of Allegiance with other Boy Scouts at the groundbreaking, said, “I’m glad because they named it after my cousin and it will help the disabled kids.”

“I think it’s good because it will help all the handicapped people and help Joplin,” said another Scout, Braeden Bakos, 11.

Scout Brady Smith, 10, said, “I think it’s good because it’s for kids that can’t play at other fields. Some special needs kids like to play baseball, and they don’t get to but now they will.”

Donations may be sent to the Will Norton Miracle Field, P.O. Box 542, Joplin, MO 64802. Names of those who donate $100 or more will be inscribed on benches at the field. Anyone wishing to make a major contribution or to inquire about a naming sponsorship may contact Jenny Hocker at jenny@doriscarlin.com.

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