Rutherford County offers outdoor recreation fun for all ages.
Relax on a swing, slide down a slide, bunt a baseball or send it flying over the fence – all Rutherford County residents will soon be able to take part in these activities, with Murfreesboro’s Miracle Field and a planned all-inclusive playground in Smyrna.
By 2021, construction to add an all-inclusive Freedom Playground is expected to begin at Smyrna’s Lee Victory Recreation Park, a longtime favorite in the community.
Right now, the park is home to a number of sports fields and courts, a large park and shelters, but once the updates are made, it will be a venue everyone can enjoy.
This project was developed to ensure disabled children in the area also have a space to play safely, and the Rotary Club of Smyrna is helping bring it to fruition.
“The idea came out of a Rotary board meeting a couple years ago, so we started exploring it as a project,â€ says Bobby Hopkins, president of the Rotary Club of Smyrna. “It seemed like a great thing to do, allowing people of all ages and abilities to play together in a nice gathering place. In Rutherford County, estimates show that about 22,000 people have some sort of disability, which is why such an all-access playground would be important.”
The Freedom Playground project will cost $650,000 and is the largest fundraiser the Rotary Club of Smyrna has ever embarked upon. Hopkins says everything was moving along smoothly until the coronavirus hit.
“Prior to that, much of the money came from a couple of Wings of Freedom Fish Fry fundraisers that the Rotary Club hosts every September at a large hangar located at Smyrna/ Rutherford County Airport,â€ he says. “Other money has been raised from grants, clubs, churches and corporate donations (including $50,000 from Taylor Farms Tennessee), and we hope to have all the money secured by the end of 2020 to start the construction process in 2021.”
The playground’s theme will center on airplanes, as Lee Victory Recreation Park is located across from Smyrna/Rutherford County Airport. Plus, since the playground will be constructed adjacent to an existing Capt. Jeff Kuss USMC Memorial in the park, a blue-and gold-colored, aviation-design scheme will honor the famed Blue Angels flight demonstration squadron.
The memorial honors Marine Capt. Jeff Kuss, who tragically lost his life at the age of 32 when his Blue Angels jet crashed during a June 2, 2016, test flight, a day before the Great Tennessee Air Show in Smyrna. A 21,600-pound Hornet jet, now displayed at Lee Victory Recreation Park, is similar to the plane flown by Kuss.
“As for playground equipment, we’ve already held meetings for public input, with good suggestions like a fence, a swing for wheelchairs, shade structures, long slides and more,â€ Hopkins says. “The ground cover will be artificial, comfortable and seamless for wheelchairs to easily roll over, and so kids won’t get hurt if they fall.”
Along with the Rotary Club, the town of Smyrna is involved in the project, providing the property space at the park. The town will also install some of the infrastructure for the bathrooms, parking and, eventually, overall maintenance.
“This will be a heavily used playground, which will be great to see,â€ says Mary Esther Reed, mayor of Smyrna. “One of the things we try to do in our town is ensure that everyone feels included, so everyone feels a part of the community. Something we were beginning to hear from parents and citizens is that they really wanted to see an all-inclusive playground, and soon, it will be here.”
Reed says Lee Victory Recreation Park was chosen as the site because it’s the busiest park in Smyrna, and other playgrounds are already part of Lee Victory’s landscape.
“It’ll be really nice for entire families to all be in one spot to use any of the playgrounds on the overall property,â€ she says. “Freedom Playground will mostly be for kids, but another positive point is that any wheelchair-bound or otherwise disabled parent can also be on the ground cover to play with their child. I’m really looking forward to seeing the playground open. It’ll obviously be a fine addition to our town.”
Miracles Do Happen
Also making news in Rutherford County is the Miracle Field of Murfreesboro. This baseball diamond off Memorial Boulevard is a rubberized, weather-resistant, flat surface that can accommodate amputees, wheelchairs and walkers, so anyone age 4 and up can try their hand at a homerun.
“The field opened in 2017 with spring and fall seasons for youths and adults, and we look forward to the 2020 fall season, if the coronavirus situation allows us to play,â€ says Thomas Laird, Murfreesboro Parks & Recreation assistant director.
The Murfreesboro field was constructed next to a dirt baseball diamond used for traditional T-ball games for children ages 4 to 6, and a playground was added next to the two fields.
“Every Saturday in the spring and fall, both baseball fields are in action and then all the kids interact with one another on the playground,â€ Laird says. “The inclusive playground lets all kids have safe fun together.”
As for Miracle Field games, Laird says they consist of two innings, with each player getting an “at batâ€ every inning.
“As they step to the plate, the player is announced, a walk-up song is played, and the player’s image is shown on the video scoreboard,â€ he says. “Each game is about an hour long, with the players, parents and everyone in attendance experiencing a happy, uplifting feeling at every game.”
Planting the Field
The City of Murfreesboro financed about 67% of the Miracle Field complex, while Project One Four, a charitable organization formed by Murfreesboro native and previous Vanderbilt Commodores pitcher David Price, who wore No. 14 with Vanderbilt from 2005-2007, paid about 33%. Price has since pitched for Tampa Bay, Detroit, Toronto, Boston and currently the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Thomas Laird, Murfreesboro Parks & Recreation assistant director, says Project One Four continues to provide funding for uniforms, equipment and other necessities, ensuring Miracle Field games will continue for years to come.
“During every game, all players have volunteer buddies from area high schools who help the players when they’re in the field, and David Price came to one of the Saturday outings when the Blackman High School baseball team served as buddies,â€ Laird says. “That was great because David graduated from Blackman, so he hung out with the high school kids and gave them baseball tips and autographs. Not only was it fantastic to see David interact with the Miracle Field kids, but those Blackman High ballplayers have a lifetime memory of hanging out with a big-leaguer.”
If you’d like to learn more about the Rutherford County area, check out the latest issue of Livability: Rutherford County, Tennessee.