WHEELING - Money collected from the annual "Tootsie Roll Drive" has resulted in a $30,000 donation to build a Miracle Field in Wheeling.
The West Virginia Knights of Columbus announced the contribution Thursday. Organization President Robert Stahl said the donation was made possible through the KOC's annual Tootsie Roll campaign. KOC members hand out Tootsie Rolls to the public and accept donations for charity in return.
"If someone offers you a Tootsie Roll, you don't have to give anything in return," he said. "But when you do ... it's an opportunity to donate to a mentally handicapped facility in your area."
(Photo by Joselyn King)
Lori Untch, from left, president and chief executive officer of Easter Seals, and Lorraine McCardle, parent and organizer for Wheeling’s Miracle League, accept a check Thursday for $30,000 from the West Virginia Knights of Columbus for construction of a Miracle Field in Wheeling. Representing the state K. of C. are Darrell Capral, state deputy; Mark Ackermann, state secretary; and Robert Stahl, president.
Stahl and other KOC officials were present Thursday at the Easter Seals Rehabilitation Center in Wheeling to present the check. The local Easter Seals center is facilitating the effort to build the handicapped accessible baseball field on land donated by the city of Wheeling at the J.B. Chambers I-470 Sports Complex.
Local groups that are playing a major role in the project include the Ogden Newspapers, Pirates Charities, which is the charitable arm of the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Community Foundation of the Ohio Valley and others. Proceeds from this year's Ogden Newspapers 20K Classic Run and Walk were donated to the cause and the Pirates Charities will assist in continued fundraising and planning.
Miracle League baseball fields have a synthetic surface that allows children and adults who use walkers or wheelchairs to play baseball in a safe manner with the help of a "buddy." A Miracle League was started just this year in Wheeling, and already there are 65 players actively participating, according to Lori Untch, president and chief executive officer of Easter Seals. There are also 200 volunteers, or "buddies," involved who assist the players on the field.
Lorraine McCardle of Wheeling, whose son Austin is a Miracle League player, said she was inspired to start the league after realizing her son's interest in the game - and how it didn't cross his mind that he wouldn't be able to play despite his disabilities. The closest Miracle League fields are in Zanesville, Pittsburgh and Morgantown, and members of the local league have had to travel to those locations for games.
Betty McCleary, a senior administrative assistant with Easter Seals, is among those who volunteer as "buddies" for the Miracle League. She said anyone over the age of 5 who is disabled can participate in the league, and there is no upper age limit. Organizers seek to place those of similar ages on the field at the same time, while older players play in the last games of the day.
"That's because they usually have more patience," McCleary noted.
One thing she has noticed is that while the children are happy to be participating, the smiles on the faces of their parents might even be bigger.
An estimated $800,000 is needed to build a Miracle League field in Wheeling, according to Easter Seals officials. Thus far they have collected about $450,000.