Home » Feature Story » Miracle In Monticello

Miracle In Monticello

By Carroll Smith
Senior Writer

Transform My Community Contest Winners Announced

Grand Prize Winner: A.J. Hood, Cotton Producer, Tillar, Ark.
First Place Winner: Steve Robert, Cotton Consultant, Wynne, Ark.
Second Place Winner: Frank Phelps, Cotton Consultant, Mer Rouge, La.
Third Place Winner: Stephanie Miller, Cotton Producer, Boaz, Ala.
Fourth Place Winner: Bob & Stoney Stonestreet, Cotton Consultants, Clarksdale, Miss.

Arkansas cotton farmer A. J. Hood, says, “There is something magical about baseball, America’s favorite pastime. For a child with disabilities, however, that magic is almost impossible to achieve. The Miracle League of Southeast Arkansas (SEARK) has set out to transform the lives of children with disabilities by building a ‘Field of Dreams’ in which every child, regardless of their disability, will be able to play baseball.”

Hood’s entry in the Transform My Community (TMC) contest was the spark that led Dow AgroSciences to name him Grand Prize winner. Last March, cotton farmers and consultants were invited to “tell us (Dow Agro- Sciences) how your favorite charity or organization is working to help transform your community – your idea could win $10,000 to make it happen.”

Todd Pilcher, Dow AgroSciences U.S. product manager, Transform insecticide, says, “Our goals for Transform My Community were to sponsor a contest that would make an impression and connect with long-term community development. All of the entries were fantastic, which made it tough to name a Grand Prize winner. However, we thought A.J. did a superb job of tying in the benefit that he has realized from using Transform insecticide on the farm to the fact that $10,000 in TMC prize money would transform the lives of many children and young adults in his community.”

Hood explains that the surface of a Miracle League baseball field “is designed with wheelchairs, crutches and visual impairments in mind. The kids are paired with an able bodied buddy that helps them bat, run the bases and score runs.” Last spring, after discussing the TMC contest with Kyle Colwell, his Dow AgroSciences sales rep, Hood asked his wife, Nikki, what she thought about it.

“Nikki agreed that the $10,000 prize would be a great benefit to the Miracle League fund-raising efforts, so we submitted an entry,” he says.

Miracle in Monticello

Back row, from left: Todd Pilcher, Dow AgroSciences; University of Arkansas-Monticello baseball coaches; Kyle Colwell, Dow AgroSciences; Terry Hopper, SEARK Miracle League board member; Zack Tucker, Mayor of Monticello; A.J. Hood, cotton producer; and Jay Golz, Dow AgroSciences. Center: John Harvey, UAM head baseball coach; Jim Eoff and Amanda Killingsworth, SEARK Miracle League board members; and Karen Connelley, SEARK Miracle League president. Front row: Eric Stevens, Thomas Stevens, Colby Grider, Gene Norton and Seth Parker.

Building Awareness Is Priority
Karen Connelley, president of the Miracle League of Southeast Arkansas, lives in Monticello and has been a pediatric physical therapist for 25 years. Her mother, Anita Gourley, was a nurse at the Arkansas Children’s Colony in Arkadelphia, Ark., for 26 years.

“When my mom was on call, my sister Kelly and I would go down there with her and read to the kids,” Connelley says. “So I grew up around children with disabilities, and my children have, too.

“Today, SEARK Miracle League’s goals are to construct the field, build awareness and be a voice for children and adults with disabilities,” she adds. “We became a 501(c)3 organization in September 2014, and have already raised more than $100,000. We are so grateful to the many individuals and groups who have donated money for this effort.”

Despite the financial undertaking involved in making a “miracle in Monticello” happen, Connelley is optimistic. SEARK Miracle League is applying for an Arkansas Parks and Tourism grant through the city of Monticello and is also appreciative of private donations to help reach their $300,000 goal by Jan. 1, 2016. This milestone achievement would allow them to start building the Miracle League baseball field in the spring.

Zack Tucker, mayor of Monticello, is working with the City Council to make additional funds available to construct restrooms and improve and expand the parking area and sidewalks so that the Miracle League field truly will be handicap accessible.

The SEARK Miracle League baseball field will be located at the Monticello Sports Complex and look similar to this completed field located in Puerto Rico.

The SEARK Miracle League baseball field will be located at the Monticello Sports Complex and look similar to this completed field located in Puerto Rico.

Anticipation Runs High
One of the local residents who is looking forward to playing baseball on the Miracle League field, when he is not farming with his dad Eric, is Thomas Stevens. For the past five years, Thomas has played in a Challenger Baseball League in Pine Bluff, Ark. However, the Miracle League’s recycled rubber surface will make it safer and more handicap accessible. Once the new baseball diamond is completed, Thomas and many others in the area can have even more fun pursuing their favorite sport.

Gene Norris is another avid sports fan who resides in Monticello. In fact, Gene is such an enthusiastic UAM Weevils basketball and volleyball fan that he was presented with the 2014 UAM Spirit Award at the Hall of Fame Sports Banquet. When asked what he is most looking forward to about the new Miracle League baseball field in Monticello, Gene replied, “I want to hit the ball hard!”

The $10,000 Transform My Community prize money donated to the Miracle League by A.J. Hood will go a long way in making sports dreams come true for Thomas and Gene.

“Having a brother with many disabilities makes this project even more special to my family,” Hood says. “He has taught me not to take life for granted, and this great group of volunteers is ready to make dreams come true for these children and adults.”

Visit miracleleagueseark.org to donate online and check out SEARK Miracle League on Facebook!

Cotton Thrives At Arkansas Enterprise

Johnny Singleton and A.J. Hood

Johnny Singleton and A.J. Hood

A.J. Hood is a farmer and farm manager for Tillar & Co., an 18,000-acre tract of land in southeast Arkansas.

Local stories still circulate about the lofty Cypress and Tupelo trees being harvested in the 1800s, loaded onto barges in Bayou Bartholomew and eventually delivered to New Orleans via the river system. According to these accounts, the trees were then shipped to England to become masts for ocean-going vessels. Once the interior Delta land was cleared, cotton fields were established, gins were built and agriculture became the mainstay of the surrounding communities.

“This farm was established in the 1800s as a cotton farm and continues to this date with substantial cotton acreage and ginning capabilities,” Hood says. “I farm with my partner Johnny Singleton, who, along with Ken Wells, also shares managerial responsibilities for Tillar & Co.

“Because Bayou Bartholomew runs throughout the farm, our host areas for bug populations are extremely high. Without Transform insecticide as an integral part of our insect management plan, tarnished plant bug control would be nearly impossible,” he explains. “Transform has given us the option to continue to plant cotton acres on the farm while protecting our yield potential, investment and, more importantly, our heritage.”

Kyle Colwell, who is the local Dow Agro- Sciences sales rep, says A.J. is a progressive farmer who likes to be in on the front end of technology and crop protection chemistries.

“A.J. likes to try new technology on his farm so he will know what to expect when a product goes to market,” Colwell says.

“I also have to tip my hat to Rogers Cockrill, the owner of Tillar & Co. It’s quite an impressive operation, and Rogers has done a phenomenal job of keeping the farm together after more than 100 years.”

staff_csmith

Contact Carroll Smith at (901) 326- 4443 or csmith@onegrower.com.