WALKER — Following the success of January’s Nashville Unplugged fundraiser for the Challenger Field project, Walker Mayor Rick Ramsey is confident that the field, especially designed for youth with special needs, will be completed by the end of December.
Ramsey said the Nashville Unplugged benefit raised $80,000 for Challenger Field, a baseball facility with features that will allow the disabled to enjoy games more than they can on conventional fields. Special-needs athletes now play games on a conventional field in a league that has been around for four years.
The benefit, featuring live entertainment, attracted about 600 patrons, Ramsey said.
“It was a terrific event. Nashville Unplugged created an atmosphere of fun and fellowship, and I think everyone enjoyed it. We heard no complaints. The great thing is we raised funds that will go towards our Challenger Field, something that will be very special in Walker,” Ramsey said.
To date, $168,000 has been raised through donations for construction of the field. Area civic organizations and residents have contributed to the Challenger Field fund.
Walker’s Parks and Recreation Department has worked for months to establish Challenger Field. Ramsey said he anticipates that athletes from surrounding parishes, and at times from throughout the state and region, will ultimately use Challenger Field. The field will be the only venue of its type in a wide area of the state.
The mayor said the total cost of the project will be about $420,000. Walker is expecting to receive a grant from the Cal Ripken Jr. Foundation for a portion of the funding. The foundation will match, up to a certain point, funds generated on the local level.
Ramsey said that in a recent teleconference with Chuck Brady, vice president for Youth Development Parks of the Cal Ripken Jr. Foundation, details about the foundation’s role in construction of Challenger Field were discussed. The mayor said that he expects that a memorandum of agreement with the foundation soon will be signed.
When all the funding has been accumulated and final plans have been made, the Cal Ripken Jr. Foundation will take charge and build the field to its specifications with the goal of completion by the end of December.
The foundation is now building 30 fields at sites nationwide, Ramsey said. Ramsey said the city is planning to send Walker Director of Parks Tracey McMorris to the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, this year to learn more about special-needs baseball fields. Such a facility is now in use at the Little League World Series.
The mayor said Brady has expressed an interest in visiting Walker for an April fundraiser. A steak dinner will be held at Greystone on April 22. Tickets for the supper are $125, and Ramsey said each $100 of donation will go to Challenger Field.
Ramsey said he is working on a line-item budget for such things as concrete, cinder blocks, fencing and other items that might be donated for the project.
“We are trying to find out what we can provide locally to help in the completion of Challenger Field. We are hoping that businesses and individuals who can assist us in this area will come forward to help us out,” Ramsey said.
Challenger Field will be built in Sidney Hutchinson Park. The field will be constructed with materials like shock-absorbent turf that will minimize the chance of injuries. Special bases will be used. Fences and some structures will be covered with padding.
“Everything about the field is geared towards affording the handicapped an opportunity to enjoy playing games in the great outdoors in an environment especially created for them. We are very excited about this project, and it’s something that we should have been providing for some time. We owe these very special people a place where they can maximize their skills and have fun in their own park. We are excited about what Challenger Field can mean to special athletes from throughout the area,” Ramsey said.