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Community groups, leaders come together, make miracles happen

Dr. David Runyon stepped up to the plate. He’s been a doctor for the last 15 or so years, but Friday on Sportsplex Field 3, he was just a dad.

“This is why I am doing this,” Runyon said, holding back tears and holding even more so his son Julian, one of Troy Miracle Field’s future players.

Julian, who suffers from cerebral palsy, was proud to join his father and Lion’s Club member Runyon, who has been just one of many working toward the cause brought to life Friday morning.

With the announcement of Miracle League’s latest $50,000 donation from CGI, those behind the project were proud to announce the three years of “grabbing” the fundraising “bull by the horns” had paid off.

“(Julian) has been playing at Miracle League in Montgomery and really wants to play in Troy,” Runyon said.

“These kids have been told so many times, ‘You can’t play, you’re handicap,’ or ‘You can’t run, you’re in a wheelchair.’ Now we can tell them, ‘You’re up!’”

The announcement Friday came thanks to CGI’s latest hefty contribution. But, the ceremony was held to honor all, from large to small, who have worked to make Miracle Field a reality.

The Miracle Field, which will provide an opportunity for disabled children and adults to play baseball, was a project initiated by the Troy Lion’s Club about three years ago.

Preceding CGI’s donation that completed the fundraising efforts, the club got its big start with a $100,000 donation from Sen. Wendell Mitchell, D-Luverne.

“When the Lion’s Club was doing such a fabulous job and working to bring a then $450,000 project, bringing in money here and there, that’s when my friend Sen. Wendell Mitchell made a commitment to this project,” said Troy Mayor Jimmy Lunsford.

Mitchell said he has been working with people with disabilities for years, but he wasn’t too familiar with Miracle Field until he got a call one day from Troy Parks and Recreation Director Dan Smith.

“Dan called me and wanted to drive to Montgomery to see me about a project,” Mitchell said. “I told him how silly that was because I don’t mind coming to the people.”

Nonetheless, the project essentially found its beginning after a persistent Smith met an open-minded Mitchell for lunch one day.

“It was only natural when I heard of the need to want to help,” Mitchell said. “I found the money and am delighted to join hands today with the city of Troy, CGI and the Lion’s club in the Miracle League.”

While the project isn’t funded by the city of Troy, likely no one standing on the infield would argue Miracle Field’s chances without the city’s helping hands.

“After Angel (Lion’s Club president) and the Lion’s Club began to explore this idea, we started counting our eggs before they were hatched, wondering, ‘Where are we going to put it?’” said Council President Johnny Witherington.

There were several ideas for the field’s location thrown into the hat.

“Dan and the mayor stated to think these kids don’t want to be by themselves,” Witherington said, about the city council donating the Field 3 to the project, a move that brought it down to $250,000.

Witherington admitted he had a personal stake in the project.

“David and Sheila Sanders are good friends of mine. They have two sons Cole and John Baxley who play ball, and they’ve got a little boy Sheldon who can’t walk,” Witherington began. “I saw Sheila and David bring Sheldon to these ball fields, and I remember Sheldon asking his momma, ‘Why can’t I play ball?’

“This field is going to make a difference.”

But, following Mitchell’s, the city of Troy’s, and donations like those of the 2009 Troy Pre-Minors who raised more than $6,000 for the cause, CGI was proud to be the one that met the project’s fundraising goals.

“CGI giving back to the communities we live and work is really part of our corporate DNA,” said Mark Eschle, vice president of onshore delivery. “This was obviously very important to the city of Troy and the mayor.”

Eschle said the Miracle Field project, seeing donations from a team of young baseball players to a state senator, just enforces why CGI chose Troy as its home. “Miracle Field is an example of where a community pulled together.”

While Eschle spoke highly of the community’s commitment, Lunsford returned the compliment back to the company.

“They have a concept within their own organization where employees are members, and CGI wants to be a member of our community. This is just an extension of that,” the mayor said.

Smith said the project is just a testament of how great Troy’s people are when they work together.

“There are only a handful of Miracle Fields in Alabama, and this is a testament to the heart and spirit of our community to step up and make this a reality — from the Lion’s Club to Senator Mitchell to CGI to children who gave a dollar of their lemonade stand money here and there,” Smith said.