VILONIA — Cities across central Arkansas hit one out of the park last month in an effort to help their neighbor rebuild after an April 27 tornado changed the landscape earlier this year.
Vilonia Mayor James Firestone said the rebuilding effort following the tornado’s destruction this spring has been moving along well, and the support of neighboring cities has been uplifting. Last week, Firestone received $8,500 raised by a tournament organized by the Cabot Parks and Recreation Commission and earmarked for the rebuilding of Vilonia’s baseball park.
“The support we’ve gotten is great,” Firestone said. “That money we received is so, so nice. We just got everything [at the park] cleaned up. It was a total loss. Every penny going toward that park will go toward the construction of the park.”
Before the tornado, the Vilonia City Park on Cemetery Street had five baseball fields, a concession stand, a small field used for soccer and a playground. After the tornado roared through town, the playground remained next to the road, but the rest of the complex was destroyed.
Soon after the destruction was realized, members of the Cabot Parks and Recreation Commission decided to take steps toward raising money for the Vilonia park’s reconstruction.
In mid-July, 12 teams gathered for the inaugural Mid-Summer Classic Baseball Tournament at the Richie Road Baseball Complex in Cabot.
“We ended up having an 8U division and a 6U division,” said Travis Young, program director for Cabot Parks and Recreation and a Vilonia resident. “We ended up raising $8,158.15. Then Thrivent Financial, which is through the Lutheran church, also donated $400. That’s all going toward the city of Vilonia to help rebuild the park.”
While $8,558 seems like a significant amount of money, rebuilding the park will take much more than that. Young said bases can cost $260 for a set of three and $100 for home plate. Those small, yet necessary, items can add up quickly, and he said he hopes the money raised by the tournament can help offset some of those costs.
Firestone said it may seem like donations are just drops in the bucket compared to the costs of rebuilding the park, but the combined donations can make a big impact.
“Those drops in the bucket eventually make that bucket full,” he said.
Young said the tournament included teams from locations across central Arkansas — Greenbrier, Beebe, Lonoke, Cabot, Sylvan Hills, Jacksonville and the Lakewood community.
Sponsors — including M&M Environmental of Conway, Metro Appliances of North Little Rock, Kincade and Co. of Cabot, Centennial Bank and the Cabot Advertising and Promotion Commission — helped pay for the cost of the tournament so that money raised could go toward the Vilonia park, and a donation bucket at the event helped contribute to the overall fundraising effort.
“We’re just happy to do it,” Young said. “The tournament was — even in the heat of competition — a very positive event.”
The 8-year-old finals were between a Cabot team and a Jacksonville team, Young said. The game was won by the Cabot team on the last two outs in the last inning with the bases loaded. After the game, when Firestone was giving out awards, the teams agreed to give him the game ball.
“That was something that wasn’t planned, and it was out of the ordinary,” Young said. “Both of the coaches got together and gave the game ball to the mayor and told him they wanted to see the ball in the new park when it got built. I was really surprised because it was all of a sudden. It was neat.”
Young said it is important to support the parks because they add to the quality of life for a town but are often in danger of being cut because of budget constraints.
Firestone said he knows the importance of parks in the community, and as Vilonia rebuilds, city officials are keeping parks in mind.
“We are trying to get the soccer fields cleaned up in time for fall soccer to start in the next month,” he said. “Kids are such an important part of our community, and it’s good to get their lives back to normal.”
Firestone also said the city will have a chance to possibly reorganize the baseball park during the rebuilding phase in order to make better use of the space.
Staff writer Angela Spencer can be reached at (501) 244-4307 or firstname.lastname@example.org.