ROCKY FACE, Ga. -- Every ounce of Peyton Hicks -- from her sparkling blue eyes and white hard hat to her rainbow-colored socks -- radiated happiness and excitement Tuesday morning as she looked around grass that will become a ball field for special-needs children and adults.
It didn't look like much; short grass, some spray-painted markers and a few shovels at the edge of a lake. But for 11-year-old Peyton, it meant the beginning of her dream to be a "normal" kid on a team.
"Miracles do happen," her bright pink T-shirt proclaimed.
Tuesday, dozens of Peyton's friends, teachers and classmates met with Whitfield County officials to break ground for their Miracle Field at Westside Park on Mount Vernon Road.
They watched as Peyton and her parents used gold-plated shovels to move the first ounces of dirt. All of them greeted Peyton with smiles and hugs, all of them excited that the dream they had worked for was going to be reality.
Peyton was born with a condition similar to cerebral palsy that tightens her muscles and leaves her struggling to walk, even with the help of a walker.
"I'm excited about hitting a ball," she said. "I can't wait to find out who will be my buddy."
Every word is difficult for her, but it is easy to see just how much it means.
"She grew up watching her friends playing T-ball, softball and baseball," said Peyton's mom, Millie Hicks. "She is so excited -- for the first time she gets to get out in the field and play."
Anyone interested in making a donation or volunteering to help may call Whitfield County Clerk Samantha Bearden at 706-275-7507.
MEETING A NEED
"For too many years, we have ignored the needs of our disabled children," Whitfield County Commission Chairman Mike Babb told the crowd. "And we hope that this is going to make a statement about the heart of Whitfield County -- that even in bad times we're not going to ignore what we consider essential needs."
A Miracle Field has a synthetic/rubberized turf to allow wheelchairs and walkers to glide across it, and the bases are painted onto the field rather than raised. The game also has special rules; every player bats once in each inning and both teams win every game.
Volunteers, known as "buddies," help the players hit the ball and travel round the bases.
The concept of a Miracle Field was launched in Conyers, Ga., 10 years ago. Now there are about 150 fields nationwide, with about 100 more in the planning and construction stages.
Officials hope to have Whitfield County's field finished by spring 2012. It will include a special playground and will be the first Miracle Field in Northwest Georgia.
The planning for Westside Park, which eventually will include multipurpose fields, tennis courts, a walking trail around the lake and a large pier on the lake, began more than eight years ago. But the idea to add a Miracle Field was suggested less than two years ago.
MAKING IT HAPPEN
Since then, the county has received a grant for $100,000 and raised $165,000 in donations. The students in Peyton's school raised $2,000 by selling T-shirts.
County Clerk Samantha Bearden, who helped spearhead the efforts, said the field will cost about $340,000. She said supporters will continue raising money to help in ongoing expenses such as buying a bus to take the children to the games.
About 1,000 children in Whitfield County will be eligible to use the field, Bearden said. Officials hope thousands more from surrounding counties also will participate.
"We don't want this to be something that burns real bright and then burns out," Bearden said. "This is such an important thing. I think it says a lot about our community that we can come together and do something like this."
"We've been overwhelmed by the support from the community," Millie Hicks said. "It is a wonderful opportunity for Peyton and the other kids."
Contact Mariann Martin at email@example.com or 706-980-5824.
Mariann Martin covers healthcare in Chattanooga and the surrounding region. She joined the Times Free Press in February 2011, after covering crime and courts for the Jackson (Tenn.) Sun for two years. Mariann was born in Indiana, but grew up in Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Belize. She graduated from Union University in 2005 with degrees in English and history and has master’s degrees in international relations and history from the University of Toronto. While attending Union, ...