Jeff West, who grew up in Normandy, received a Governor’s Volunteer Star Award during a ceremony held Sunday for his efforts to raise money for a rubberized baseball field.
The amount raised has exceeded the initial goal and the field is now almost completed.
The Governor’s Volunteer Star Award initiative, now in its ninth year, is organized by Volunteer Tennessee and recognizes outstanding volunteers from each county of Tennessee.
West said his mother, Patsy West, a resident of Normandy, taught him by example to always help others when he can.
After graduating from Coffee County Central High School in Manchester, West moved to Lawrenceburg. He works as a FedEx courier. When he’s not at work, he volunteers as a pitcher for the Miracle League in Lawrenceburg, a baseball league for people with disabilities. The league was established by Tommy and Lesa Kidd in honor of their daughter Abigail, who was born in 2000 with Down syndrome.
They created a nonprofit organization called the Abigail’s Plan and established the baseball league, which was initially called Buddy Ball and is now known as the Miracle League.
“I have been involved with the baseball league since the time it was called Buddy Ball,” West said. “It’s a baseball league for special needs kids and adults.”
“I started four years ago,” West said. “My wife and I just started out watching and cheering them, and then I was asked to pitch. I am still a pitcher.”
Two years ago, the idea about raising funds for a rubberized Miracle League field was born because playing on a regular field with grass and dirt can be very difficult for players with walking issues, said West. Some of the participants use wheelchairs, walkers and crutches, and the rubberized field would make it much easier for them.
“The Miracle League would be the first one in Tennessee,” West said. “There were rubberized fields for kids and adults with special needs all over the United States, but there were none in Tennessee.”
The initial goal of the project was to raise $350,000.
“We exceeded our goal within a year,” West said. “We started fundraising about two years ago, and, in one year, we had raised enough to build the field.”
The field is now almost complete and players will begin using it in the spring, according to West.
“Since we started, there is one Miracle Field being built in Chattanooga, and one being fundraised in Murfreesboro,” West said. “In Murfreesboro, a professional athlete donated the biggest part of the money.”
Reportedly, earlier this month, major league pitcher David Price donated $300,000 for a rubberized field in Murfreesboro.
“The fact he donated for the initiative is fantastic,” West said. “We didn’t have such big donations. We had a lot of donors that donated quite a bit, but a lot of it was just from doing fundraisers, selling T-shirts and individual donations.”
With 11 players at the beginning, the league has grown. About 100 players are now part of the program, and with the new field almost ready, the growth is expected to continue.
“Our players come from Lawrenceburg and neighboring counties,” West said. “Some have even come from Alabama.”
All people involved in the program participate on a volunteer basis, and everything is free for the players.
“Their uniforms are all paid for,” West said. “Everything is completely paid for.”
West said he’s happy to be part of the program.
“It’s a great feeling,” he said. “As a pitcher, I am the first person that gets to see them when they first hit the ball.”
The award ceremony was held on Sunday at the Franklin Marriott Cool Springs in Franklin.
“There were roughly 200 honorees,” West said.
Almost all 95 counties in Tennessee take part in the program. The participating counties conduct a call for nominations and recognize one outstanding youth and one outstanding adult volunteer.
“Participating in the ceremony was very humbling,” West said. “It was amazing to see the different ages of the people that were honored.”
West recalled the last two honorees who received the award.
“The adult was 97 years old,” West said. “He volunteered driving his silver Mustang delivering meals to people in need. The next person that was honored was nine years old. Some of what the young people are doing is amazing. It was amazing to see what is out there and what’s being done.”
For more information about the Miracle Field in Lawrenceburg, visit www.abigailsplan.org.