Miracle field plans

Showers Field in DuBois will be the site of the Small College World Series for baseball in 2018 and 2019. The proposed miracle field at the DuBois City Park will host the Small College World Series for softball at the same time. The miracle field project is slated to begin in the fall and be completed by spring.

DuBOIS — The City of DuBois has a dream and, if all goes well, will make it a reality in the near future.

The idea is to build a miracle field so children and adults with any type of special needs or disabilities will have the opportunity to play America’s favorite pastime — baseball.

“This has been a dream of the City of DuBois, the mayor, the council and myself for a long time,” said city Manager John “Herm” Suplizio. “We continually want to make DuBois a better place to live. We don’t want to stay stagnant. We are trying to do new things.”

Just one shining example of that something “new” is Showers Field.

“We built a ballpark that we feel is by far one of the nicest within a 50-mile radius, it’s a beautiful field,” Suplizio said.

The city is also aware that there is a need to create athletic opportunities for children and adults who have mental and physical disabilities.

“We do have a dream that we want to build a field and call it a miracle field for people who are less fortunate. We are hoping someday to do that,” Suplizio said.

Suplizio said the concept of a miracle field has been seen in multiple places across the state.

“Indiana is probably the closest to us. It’s not fair that they have to drive that far,” he said.

Though the miracle field would be designed so special needs people can use it, the city would like to make it a multi-purpose field as well so that it can be used for other things, too.

What it is

Baseball diamonds aren’t usually designed with wheelchairs and crutches in mind.

The Miracle League concept was developed in Conyers, Georgia, in 2000 to help children with special needs play the game of baseball. Most Miracle Leagues play on custom-designed fields that feature cushioned, rubberized surfaces to help prevent injuries, accessible dugouts and completely flat surfaces (no raised bases or pitching mounds) to eliminate any barriers to wheel-chair bound or visually impaired players.

Currently, boys and girls with mental or physical disabilities can play baseball on the softball field at the DuBois City Park as part of the DuBois Challenger League through Little League International, said Sherry Martini, who founded the DuBois Challenger League in 2009. They can play starting at age of 5 and until the age of 21, she said.

Martini said she started the Challenger League after seeing no children with special needs playing baseball after Tee Ball.

“I thought why is this? It really did keep me up at night. I thought this is not right,” Martini said. “I started looking into it and did some research and found out that there was such a thing as a Challenger League.”

Officials of the DuBois Little League did not hesitate when Martini approached them with the idea and the Challenger League was started in DuBois. Children with special needs come from all over to play in DuBois, including Brockway and St. Marys. Punxsutawney used to participate in the DuBois league but then started its own Challenger League.

Martini said when she and several others involved in the Challenger League heard that the city was interested in building a miracle field, “We wrote letters of support to whom it may concern.”

“The reason a miracle league is more beneficial is because all those children and the adults can be part of the team,” Martini said. She said there are a lot of people who want to play after they reach age 21 but can’t because they have aged out of the league. With a miracle field league, they will be able to play regardless of their age, she said.

“We invite them back to

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help, but they want to play,” Martini said.

Another benefit of a miracle field is that it makes it easier for those in wheelchairs to participate, she said.

“Oftentimes, we have to either delay or cancel games if it rains,” Martini said. “What happens is the mud gets stuck in their wheelchairs and it takes hours for their parents to clean out the wheelchairs. If cancelled, it’s very hard to reschedule because we share that field with other softball players from churches.”

A miracle field is “definitely worthwhile,” Martini said. “If you saw those kids, I mean I get as much joy as they do out of it, just seeing their faces. If we had a miracle league, then all of these students, we’ve had huge numbers, they would be able to participate.”

Cost

One obstacle to overcome in this venture is money, something the city is currently in the process of raising.

“The entire project is probably going to cost somewhere between $800,000 to $1 million,” Suplizio said. “It’s not a cheap endeavor.”

The city’s Park and Recreation funds are being set aside for the project, Suplizio said, as well as some Community Development Block Grant money. The city is also waiting for a RCAP grant from the Redevelopment Authority Capital Program.

“We are looking for private donations as well,” Suplizio said. “We are looking for anybody who wants to invest.”

Pittsburgh Pirates Charities contributes

Pirates Charities has given a $100,000 grant to the City of DuBois for the proposed miracle field,” Suplizio said.

“I wrote (Pirates and Pirates Charities Chairman) Bob Nutting a letter and one thing led to another,” Suplizio said. Later on, he met with Nutting at the Indiana Miracle Field and the two discussed the city’s proposed miracle field and eventually the grant was approved. Denny Heindl of Ridgway, part owner of the Pittsburgh Pirates, also assisted the city in receiving the grant, Suplizio said.

Pirates Charities Executive Director Patty Paytas said the organization feels very strongly and passionately about miracle fields and noted that it is the philanthropic arm of the Pittsburgh Pirates.

“When we started, it was just for children,” Paytas said. “But now not only do we see children using these fields, we see adults with special needs. It provides a great opportunity for kids and adults to participate in the game of baseball. We couldn’t be more happy about that.”

The process of getting funding from Pirates Charities for a miracle field took several steps by the city.

“We do our due diligence and ask them for some documentation and plans and make sure that they are going to be able to raise the rest of the money for the project,” Paytas said. “We are very interested in the sustainability of the program. We feel very confident that the City of DuBois is going to be able to not only build the field, but run a terrific program that gives kids and adults with special needs the opportunity to participate in baseball. It’s our pleasure to provide money to the City of DuBois for the construction of a miracle league field.”

Paytas said Pirates Charities has partnered on six fields and DuBois will be the seventh.

“There are two additional programs that already had fields, but we still provided them with support,” Paytas said. “This will be the ninth program, but it will be the seventh field.”

Where will it be built?

Suplizio said multiple sites for the field are still being considered. Those locations won’t be announced until a final decision has been made. Suplizio said he’s aware there are rumors surfacing of people’s properties being taken, but said that’s all they are — rumors.

If anyone from the public has any questions or concerns about the project, Suplizio urges them to call him before reverting to social media to address the problem.

The positive side of the project is that the goal is to help those people with mental and physical special needs, Suplizio said.

“We aren’t talking about taking people’s property. At this point in time, there are no plans to take anyone’s property,” Suplizio said. “Social media is going to kill this country. Somebody just throws that (idea) out there and starts running with it.”

“The city will do due diligence and put it where it best fits and where it works out best for the entire community,” Suplizio continued.

Though no location has been chosen for the proposed project, Suplizio said he and the city would like the miracle field to resemble Showers Field, but on a smaller scale.

The next step

“DuBois is still looking for money and people to invest in the field,” Suplizio said. “We talk about it every day. This is just one thing going on in the city. There is no deadline for when the field is to be built, but within a month or two, we would like to be moving forward.”

“The need is out there, we know we want to do an all-purpose field so it can be used for other things, too,” Suplizio said. “It’s been a goal of mine for a long time, and the mayor and council for a long time to get something for the handicapped and less fortunate in our area. The one thing about us is we never sit still. We are always trying to move forward.”

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