WHEELING - What do serving spaghetti, running a foot race and teeing off on a golf course have in common?
All three activities - and many more - helped build a new ball field for the Miracle League of the Ohio Valley.
Construction of the handicap-accessible field with a cushioned, synthetic surface that makes it possible for children and adults who use walkers and wheelchairs to play baseball was spearheaded by a few individuals, but members of the entire Ohio Valley community pitched in. Beginning about five years ago, the effort received significant, initial support from the Ogden Newspapers Half Marathon Classic Run and Walk; the Pittsburgh Pirates and the team's charitable arm, Pirates Charities; the Community Foundation of the Ohio Valley; the J.B. Chambers Memorial Foundation and other local donors.
Robert Nutting, chairman of the Pittsburgh Pirates and Pirates Charities, said he has enjoyed the opportunity to get acquainted with the Miracle League players and their families while supporting the effort, and he commended Lorraine McCardle, who initiated the project, and Easter Seals Rehabilitation Center President and Chief Executive Officer Lori Untch for their hard work in making it a reality.
"This is exactly what we formed Pirates Charities to do," Nutting said. "It's wonderful to bring the community together ... to all pull together and have such a tremendous result."
Frank Coonelly, Pirates president, agreed that it was "very gratifying" to see the field open on Saturday following a five-year fundraising effort.
"We're very humbled to be a part of this great community and to help make this field a reality ... ," he said. "Our players are very community minded, and they understand the great opportunities they have been given with their talents, so they feel obligated to give back to the community. "It's great to be here ... to help make a difference in the lives of those who need it the most," he added.
In addition to those who contributed to the project early on, other groups have done everything from handing out Tootsie Rolls to securing state and federal funds, sponsoring raffles and giving of their personal resources to boost the project to completion. What started out as an estimated $500,000 undertaking ultimately cost about $1 million to finish.
Among those who have contributed are the West Virginia Knights of Columbus, which donated Tootsie Roll drive proceeds to the effort, along with and the K of C of Our Lady of Peace Parish; the Wheeling Rotary Club, which organized a golf scramble; the local Circus Saints and Sinners, which raised money through a reverse raffle; Mike Ferns of A&B Kia; federal lawmakers, who obtained a Land and Water Conservation Fund grant through the National Park Service; state legislators, who presented a state Community Participation Grant; and employees of Tunnel Ridge Mine, who donated their time to perform some of the early earth work needed to prepare the site.
Undo's Italian Restaurants held multiple spaghetti dinner fundraisers to benefit the Miracle League, with the most recent designating proceeds to pave the gravel parking lot at the field. That work was completed before the inaugural pair of games at the site Saturday.
And the Ogden Newspapers Half Marathon Classic has donated to the cause on more than one occasion. Perry Nardo, general manager of The Intelligencer and Wheeling News-Register, said those contributions were made possible by race participants and sponsors, including the Ohio Valley Medical Center and East Ohio Regional Hospital, Project BEST, Panhandle Cleaning & Restoration, United Bank, the City of Wheeling and the Ohio County Commission.
"I'd just like to thank everyone who worked so hard to make this field a reality," Nardo said.
On hand to make the grand opening a success Saturday were about 250 community members, Coonelly, Pirates pitcher Mark Melancon, the Pirate Parrot, Pirates broadcaster Greg Brown, Wheeling City Manager Robert Herron, the Union Local Jets varsity softball team and representatives of the West Virginia Knights of Columbus.