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Murrysville park project intends to level playing fields

| Sunday, April 29, 2012, 4:27 p.m.

For a decade, George O'Donnell has had a vision for a "miracle field" in Murrysville where all children could play baseball together, regardless of ability or disability.

Now his dream will become a reality.

O'Donnell established the "Friends to Friends" organization in 1995 to bring children with special needs together with others in a social environment. O'Donnell's son, Georgie, has cerebral palsy, suffers from grand mal seizures, and is legally blind and deaf in one ear.

The Murrysville-based foundation stages baseball games, but most fields aren't conducive for handicapped children, especially in rainy weather.

"It gets muddy and children in wheelchairs or with walkers or in beds can't play," O'Donnell said. "So I looked into it and decided to do something about it."

O'Donnell and Harold Hicks, assistant district governor of the Murrysville-Export Rotary Club, spoke to Mayor Joyce Somers and Murrysville council, which decided to donate nearly 4 acres for the field in Murrysville Community Park on Wiestertown Road.

The project will cost $1.5 million. The Rotary Club is spearheading the fundraising efforts, having collected about $80,000.

"We wanted to be able to assist in seeing the dream come true," Hicks said.

The Buncher Family Foundation of Pittsburgh is picking up the cost of a full-time fundraiser for the project.

"Our committee decided the concept of the 'miracle field' was so wonderful that it provided opportunities for all children to play sports regardless of ability," said Christine Beattie, program officer for the Buncher Family Foundation. "We wanted to make sure it was a success. We were thrilled about the project. Instead of just giving money and wondering what's going to happen, you have passionate people at the Rotary who want to do this. We're making a grant for them to hire this professional fundraiser."

Hicks has visited miracle fields in Altoona, Morgantown, W.Va., and Huntsville, Ala., to gather information. He says this field will be bigger and better than those he's seen.

"From what we've seen, to build the field exactly to the dimensions of the original Miracle League field limits the use of the field to children with disabilities," Hicks explained. "In order to get adequate use of the facilities, we'd like to have an adult league as well as a youth league. We want to get maximum use from the amount of money we put out."

The concept of the miracle field dates to 1998, after a youth baseball coach in Conyers, Ga., invited a wheelchair-bound, 7-year-old to play on his team. For a time, a child with a disability was playing on a regular baseball team and many others wanted to follow. However, problems arose because the fields were not equipped to handle the needs of all children with disabilities.

The field in Murrysville will have a rubber-based surface.

"That's so someone is not going to fall and get hurt," said Nick Dorsche, president-elect of the Murrysville-Export Rotary Club. "It also allows for better movement for wheelchairs and crutches."

O'Donnell said baselines and bases will light up to accommodate players with hearing problems. Bases will vibrate for blind children so they know when to leave the base. Dugouts will be air-conditioned and enclosed in Plexiglas. There will be first aid stations and handicapped-accessible concession stands and restrooms.

The field may be operational by late next summer. Also planned are four boccie courts, two shuffleboard decks and a 3.1-mile walking trail, which will have no more than a 5 percent grade change. The Murrysville Senior Center is raising money to complete these portions.

A basketball court and playgrounds are planned nearby.

"It's going to be great," O'Donnell said. "Kids are really looking forward to it."

Hicks has experienced the joy of seeing games played on a miracle field.

"You recognize people with disabilities are not damaged people. They can do anything they get the opportunity to do. That is a real blessing in life."

Additional Information:

Donations

Donations may be made to The Rotary Miracle Field of Murrysville Fund, c/o The Community Foundation of Westmoreland County, 951 Old Salem Road, Penthouse Suite, Greensburg, PA 15601

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