b'PROFILESBuilding a Field of DreamsAndy GibbsI t was a if you build it, they will come journey that took more than a decade to establish Valdostas miracle field. In 2004, when Andy Gibbs watched a documentary about the Miracle Leaguea non-profit that provides children with disabilities an opportunity to play baseballit piqued his interest.In 2014, George Page, executive directoraccessible, two-dimensional, rubberized of the Valdosta-Lowndes County Parksbaseball field.and Recreation Authority (VLPRA), contacted Gibbs about co-locating aEveryone in the Valdosta and Lowndes Miracle League Field in the next phasecommunity has a big heart for our kids of the Freedom Park expansion. and adults with special needs, says I always had a passion for children andGibbs. That is why we have so many adults with disabilities, says Gibbs, aNow knowing a potential location couldagencies that focus on those needs. teacher at Valdosta Middle School andexist within an already establishedHowever, getting everyone to see the a member of the Valdosta City Council. ballpark in Valdosta, the Miracle Leagueneed for a Miracle League field was a Over the next 10 years, I workedof Valdosta, a non-profit organizationchallenge.around the clock sharing with everyonewas established. A newly elected board that would listen why we needed aof volunteers began work on raisingObstacles existed, including location, Miracle League in Valdosta. construction funds, researching andcost, and long-term maintenance.Founded under the premise thatdesigning the new field, and developingFortunately, a few members of the every child deserves a chance tothe programming to serve athletes andcommunity started really looking into play baseball, the national Miracletheir families. what a Miracle League field would League organization was founded inAs a board, we decided to start playingdo for our families, kids, and adults 1998 by the Rockdale Youth Baseballbaseball while working toward buildingwith special needs, says Gibbs. Association in Conyers, Georgia. our own field, Gibbs says. In MarchThe opportunities it would give our 2015, we started playing baseball onagencies that serve people with special Today, with 300 Miracle Leagueneeds. The recognition that it would programs in five countries, thetwo dirt fields at Freedom Park. bring to our community and for folks organization establishes local chaptersStarting with only 21 athletes, Gibbsthat are moving to this area that may that provide opportunities for childrensays, Over the next three years, ourneed a service that the Miracle League with mental and/or physical challengesnumbers grew to over 125 players andprovides. to play baseball on specially designed300 volunteers consistently every year rubberized fields. for each fall and spring season. With assistance from the VLPRA, the Miracle League Complex at Freedom While Gibbs never lost sight of the goal,While games were being played,Park opened in March 2019 and is home it took ten years before all the starsthe end goal focused on building anto the nations largest Miracle Field.aligned and the doors opened. 44 SG MAGAZINE| WINTER 2022 BUSINESS + CULTURE45'