By Mitch Talley, Whitfield County director of communications
Millie Hicks can still see in her mind the day her daughter, Paige, took her first swing during a tee-ball game a few years ago.
“I can remember the look on her face when she got a hit and ran to first and she was so proud of herself and I am just so happy and thankful that now I get the chance to have that memory for Peyton, too,” she said.
Twelve-year-old Peyton will be one of about 50 special-needs players who will help unveil the Whitfield County Miracle Field at 1519 Mount Vernon Road during a special ceremony on Saturday morning.
More than two years in the making, the Miracle Field offers special-needs players the chance to play baseball on a specially constructed field made with them in mind.
Also helping to celebrate the occasion at the ribbon-cutting ceremony at 11 a.m. will be the Whitfield County Board of Commissioners, who agreed two years ago to match the funds if volunteers could raise $350,000, and Patrick Sharrock, the 10-year-old from Rossville who was featured in the “Extreme Home Makeover” television show, who will announce the very first “play ball!”
Commissioners voted Monday night at their regular meeting to declare Saturday as “Miracle League Day in Whitfield County.”
A group from Christian Heritage School will volunteer as “buddies” for the day, and CHS student Christian Humphrey will sing the national anthem.
“We want everybody to come out and see the field that they helped build,” Millie Hicks said. “It’s truly been a community effort. We’ve had help from so many in the community that we want them all to come out and enjoy it.”
She praised the foresight of Steven Nealey, a local resident who brought back the idea of a Miracle Field to Whitfield County after seeing an opening day ceremony for such a facility while he was on vacation a few years ago.
Nealey shared the idea with then-Parks and Recreation Director George Page, and the two took it to the county commissioners.
“The commissioners loved the idea just right away,” Millie Hicks said, “and that’s when Steven called on us. He knew we had a little girl with special needs and thought we would be interested so he’s really been the catalyst for all of this.”
Millie and her husband Chip agreed to serve on a fundraising board with several others, and now they’ve agreed to become co-directors on a new, smaller Miracle League Board that has been formed to oversee day-to-day operations.
Also on the new board are Nealey, Ronnie McClurg, Treasurer Doug Keener, Deb Sneary, Tara Noe and Angela Moss-Gordy, along with consulting members Brian Chastain, Whitfield County Parks and Recreation director, and Eric Abernathy, Cross Plains Community Partner member.
“We are very grateful to the former advisory board to the Miracle Field,” Millie Hicks said. “Now that the field is complete, a new, smaller board has been formed with specific duties to handle the day-to-day operations, scheduling and future fundraising for the Miracle Field.”
When she and her husband were first introduced to the concept of the Miracle League, “we had no idea of what an amazing journey we were setting out on,” Millie Hicks said. “We’ve met so many people, been able to reconnect with so many people who are as excited about it as we are. There’s been so many who have helped us along the way and so much work that’s gone into this.”
Volunteers and the community came together quickly to raise the funds required by the commissioners, a fast timeline that has not escaped the attention of the Hicks family.
“When I think about there are so many other communities who have struggled for many years to raise the money for fields like this,” Millie Hicks said, “and then here in Dalton and Whitfield County, they really came together and raised the money in under two years. It’s just tremendous.”
Construction of the facility — which includes ample handicap parking, a covered pavilion to keep spectators and players dry and out of the sun, and multiple handicap-accessible restrooms — has gone on during the summer, and the finishing touches are being put on this week. A fully handicapped-accessible playground is also under construction next to the field but may not be completely finished by the weekend.
To see the field come together and see it in its finished form has been “very emotional, very exciting, just overwhelming really,” Millie Hicks said. “It’s turned out just beautiful. I think everyone will be very proud of it.”
Her daughter saw the facility a few days ago, “and she just cannot wait to get out there.”
In fact, Peyton will be throwing out the first pitch on Saturday morning, an honor she’s already been practicing for.
“She probably won’t be able to sleep Friday night,” Millie Hicks said with a smile.
No doubt she’ll be joined by many other players counting sheep that night, eager to get action under way at the Miracle Field the next day.
And even if someone hasn’t already registered for the league, they’re still invited to come on out Saturday.
“We like to say it’s never too late to sign up to play for the Miracle League,” Millie Hicks said. “We fully expect new players to show up for opening day wanting to play, and we’re going to do our very best to accommodate them. If they show up during the season, we’ll find a place for them. We don’t want anyone to miss the chance to play.”
The players have been divided into four teams for the inaugural fall league, and they’ll be playing in two games that are set for each Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon from Sept. 22 through Oct. 27.
“We hope everybody will come out and support these players every week,” Millie Hicks said. “We’d love to see them.”