Whitfield County workers were busy last week, literally rolling out the “green carpet” for the area’s special-needs youngsters.
Workers from the county’s recreation and public works departments joined forces Thursday morning with a dozen men from the inmate work crew to unwind 300-square-foot rolls of sod, some 64 in all, around the Whitfield County Miracle Field that is nearing the end of construction on Mount Vernon Road in the Westside community.
“It feels great to be this far along,” Whitfield County Recreation Director Brian Chastain said, admiring the facility as he showed visitors around. “Man, I’ll tell you what, this project is something that Whitfield County’s going to be proud of, especially with the design and the layout of the field. This is unique; we’ve never done anything like this.”
Workers from the county as well as general contractor Jerod Hobbs & Co. Inc. of Dalton have already completed much of the construction work for the facility, which will offer special-needs people who want to play baseball the chance to do so on a field specially designed for them, starting in about a month.
The facility will be unveiled during a special ceremony set for Saturday, Sept. 15, when a ribbon-cutting ceremony and inaugural game are scheduled. A fall league will follow in the weeks after, and a spring league is also in the works for 2013.
“Actually, we’ve set the bar for Miracle Fields now,” Chastain said, “because once they see our facility, everybody’ll try to follow what we’re doing because no one, no one’s put a pavilion around the field like ours. Most Miracle Fields are stuck off in the corner or in a little barren area, with not a lot of landscaping, but we’ve designated this area right in front of the lake just for the Miracle Field, and of course the design of the pavilion speaks for itself. The goal is to keep as many people as possible out of the sun and the heat.”
Speaking of the lake, the view from home plate — or anywhere at the park, for that matter — is outstanding. As players sit or stand to bat, they’ll be looking out at a gorgeous lake backed by trees and mountains.
“You know what, I would have to say I would love to be living right there looking at that view,” Chastain said, pointing towards the water. “I think most anybody would. That view is unreal. Can you imagine the kids out here playing one day and people fishing and walking around the lake? It’s going to be neat.”
Not only will players wait to bat in dugouts that include electrical outlets to charge their wheelchairs if necessary, but they and their family members and other supporters will also be able to stay out of the sun underneath a huge pavilion (with a beautiful tongue-and-grove pine ceiling) that surrounds home plate and covers two sets of bleachers, a concession stand, four picnic tables and six restrooms, including four handicapped facilities with doors that open with push buttons.
Near the field is a parking lot that includes a couple of dozen handicap parking spaces, as well as a drop-off location where up to three vehicles will be able to unload children, right behind the first-base dugout. Overflow parking is across the entrance drive into the park.
“We’ve also set up the outfield fence four feet tall so people can stand and watch the games all around the field,” Chastain said, “and we’ve actually angled the fence in so people can lean on it and see better.”
Also slated to be installed by the opening ceremonies is an American Disabilities Act-approved playground that is costing $120,000 and will be totally accessible for special-needs kids. The playground will be near the third-base dugout and should be a popular spot for siblings of players, too.
“It’ll be an ADA-surface field where wheelchairs will be able to roll right across it, just like the ball field,” Chastain said.
General contractor Jerod Hobbs says it’s been very exciting for him and his crew and subcontractors “to see the county care so much about what this project’s about. That’s been the best part about it, to be involved in that. This is not a typical job for us — the motivation of providing this for those kids, it’s been pretty cool.”
The Miracle Field is just the first stage of the 100-acre Westside Park, which will eventually include four other regulation ball fields, more picnic tables, a walking path around the lake, and fishing, as funding becomes available.
“We’re going to have a full-service park here,” Chastain said, “and of course one day the goal would be to have a community center here also. This is something Westside is going to be proud of, that’s for sure, not to mention all of Whitfield County, but especially Westside citizens.”
Chastain expects the rubberized Miracle Field surface to be installed sometime this week, and then the fencing will go up around it, leaving just the installation of trees beyond the outfield grass to complete construction. “We can’t uproot the trees until the sap goes down, but we expect to do that shortly after Labor Day and have them in the holes we’ve already dug by Sept. 10,” he said.
More details about the opening ceremonies will be forthcoming.
“Christian Heritage School is going to be serving as our volunteers for the first day,” Chastain said. “They’re going to be Buddies and help serve and just do whatever they need to do. They’ve committed to 50 people to work on opening day, and we really appreciate that.”
He’s also appreciative of the support of the community and volunteers like Chip and Millie Hicks, who spearheaded the raising of some $360,000 that has been matched by the county.
“I think that the people who use this field are really going to be appreciative of it,” Chastain said. “Whitfield County is committed to doing it, that’s the big thing, and of course you’ve got to throw your hat out to everybody that’s donated money to it because they raised $360,000 on their own. That’s remarkable, and that’s what got it all started. If they hadn’t raised that money, Whitfield County wouldn’t have thrown in their share, and this facility wouldn’t be here.”
Those efforts are all leading up to what Chastain believes will be a day that parents and players alike will always remember.
“That’s going to be an emotional time for a lot of these kids, moms and dads especially, getting to see their child play a sport,” he said. “Some of them may already be playing, some may not. They’re going to really enjoy that time.”
What is a Miracle Field?
A Miracle Field is a synthetic/rubberized turf that allows people in wheelchairs and walkers to glide across it. The bases are painted onto the field — not raised — to allow players to move over them. There are also special league rules. Each player bats once an inning, all base runners are safe, and both teams win every game. The league pairs players with “buddies” who help them.