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story.lead_photo.caption Peyton Wright, kneeling, and Drew Vest, both Searcy High School juniors, are working to raise money for a Miracle League baseball field, which will be built on Higginson Street. The project is part of the students’ Environmental and Spatial Technology class. Wright helped form the Miracle League of Searcy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, and the first fundraiser, a powder-puff football game, is scheduled for 2 p.m. Saturday at Searcy Lion Stadium. Admission is $5, and donations will be accepted, too. - Photo by William Harvey

Much progress has been made since Peyton Wright, a junior at Searcy High School, joined another student in January 2017 to bring a Miracle League baseball field to the city.

Since then, Wright has helped form Miracle League of Searcy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization; put together an 11-member board of directors, which he leads; launched a GoFundMe page; and spearheaded the group’s first fundraiser, a powder-puff football game set for 2 p.m. Saturday.

“I’m very passionate about it,” the 17-year-old said of the project. “I’ve spent a lot of time in class, outside of class, trying to get things set up.”

The project started in the Environmental and Spatial Technology class Wright is in. He joined the project as a sophomore after being asked to help by Gage Hall, his former classmate.

Hall’s idea was to build a Miracle League ballfield for special-needs children, and he created a computer drawing of the field while in the class.

“It wound up being a big priority for me,” Wright said. Hall and his family moved to Little Rock. Drew Vest, also a 17-year-old junior in the EAST class, stepped in to fill the void.

A powder-puff football game is scheduled to begin at 2 p.m. Saturday at Searcy Lion Stadium. It’s a three-team round-robin format. Admission is $5, and concessions will be sold. A donation table will be set up, too.

“All those donations are 501(c)(3) deductible,” Wright said.

Although he only expects the event to bring in $2,000 to $3,000 — if that — it’s a start. Wright said the field is estimated to cost $1.3 million, according to numbers presented to him last week by Delk Construction of Searcy.

“We’re just now beginning our fundraising; it’s kind of been a slow process with holiday stuff going on,” Wright said. “We’re beginning to … figure out our whole fundraising goal.”

Wright said he set up a GoFundMe page last summer, which generated about $300. A portion of that money and other donations were used to pay the $500 upfront fee to the national Miracle League office, he said.

The ballfield, which includes special turf and painted-on bases, will be built on city property, said Mike Parsons, director of Searcy Parks and Recreation. The students made a presentation to the Searcy City Council to gain approval for the project, he said.

The land is an open lot on Higginson Street, across from the soccer complex.

“It used to be an adult soccer field and got turned into an under-18 softballfield; there’s enough room next to it,” Parsons said. “They want to include the [special-needs] kids with all the other baseball, softball players.”

Wright said once the field is up and running, the Searcy Parks and Recreation Department will maintain it.

“That’s why we’re going through them. Mike Parsons is exceptional at what he does; he’s been with us since the get-go,” Wright said.

Parsons said Wright and Hall approached him as sophomores about the project.

“I love the idea; it would pull in people from out of this area, too. It’s not just for Searcy residents; it’s for all surrounding areas, too. It will give [special-needs] children the playing opportunities that other children get,” Parsons said.

“We’re definitely behind them,” he said of the high school students.

Vest said he concentrates on the marketing, while Wright communicates with the national Miracle League organization.

“I got involved here at the beginning of the year this year,” Vest said. “Peyton was in need of some more help when he realized Gage was moving.

“My family has a lot of connections throughout the community that were beneficial to us because we could draw into those connections and really glean information to get all the resources to build the best board possible to make us successful.”

Vest said his father is about to become the medical director for an urgent-care clinic in Texas; Vest’s mother is a children’s minister at First United Methodist Church.

Wright said he and Vest have gotten advice from the Jonesboro Parks and Recreation Department, which runs a Miracle League field. He said his vision for the field is to have both youth and adult leagues. He attended an adult-level game in Jonesboro, “and it was fun to watch,” he said.

“What we’re going to try to do is have a kids league, and … we also have a good amount of adults with disabilities who can definitely qualify to come play,” he said.

In what’s referred to as Single A league, players ages 4 and older have a volunteer buddy who runs or walks or pushes them in their wheelchair around the bases. Some Miracle Leagues also have adult leagues and competitive leagues.

Vest said the Miracle League Field is a project the entire city can get behind.

“I love it; I think it’s something our town has been needing for a while,” Vest said. He said his hope is to bring residents of all religions and walks of life together “and have a point of contact where everyone can come together and have a good time and do it for all the right reasons.”

Wright said that although businesses often compete for naming rights on projects, “we’ve really tried to focus on unity, whether it’s fencing companies getting in or asphalt companies, so we can all work together to get it done.”

Vest said people seem to be inspired that “a couple of high school students have picked up on this.”

“When you’re going out and telling your story, we’ve had a lot of people we’ve talked to in the community who said, ‘As soon as you are 501(c)(3) recognized, let us know,’” Vest said. “They’re eager to get involved, knowing that being on the ground floor of something like this is something that can change lives for years.”

The young men said the original goal was to have the field up and running by the time they graduate.

“We realized it takes more time to get a tax ID number, a board,” Vest said. “We’re hoping to have construction underway by the time we graduate.”

Both teenagers are optimistic that the project will come to fruition.

“I definitely think it’s going to happen,” Wright said. “We don’t want to go in too quick. We want to be fully prepared before we take off. We’re taking it a day at a time.”

For more information about the project or to donate to it, contact Wright at (501) 388-5238 or peyton.wright@searcyschools.org, or Vest at andrew.vest@searcyschools.org. Donations may also be made to the GoFundMe account by going to gofundme.com and searching for “Searcy Miracle League.”

Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

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