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Memorabilia of David Betts Memorabilia of David Betts provide a setting for David’s parents, Joy and John Betts, as Mr. Betts gives details before the groundbreaking of a new indoor baseball/softball venue in Bryan.
Memorabilia of David Betts provide a setting for David’s parents, Joy and John Betts, as Mr. Betts gives details before the groundbreaking of a new indoor baseball/softball venue in Bryan.
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Published: Saturday, 3/3/2012 - Updated: 2 years ago

COMMENTARY

Bluffton U. player continues giving, even in death

Ground broken in Bryan for facility funded by foundation

BY DAVE HACKENBERG
BLADE SPORTS COLUMNIST

David Betts is one of the great philanthropists in the northwest Ohio city of Bryan.

For the last four-plus years he has been funding academic scholarships, purchasing athletic equipment and uniforms, buying instruments for the music department, and supporting the Fellowship of Christian Athletes at Bryan High School.

PHOTO GALLERY: David Betts Double Play Diamond

Makes sense. David was an honor student, athlete, trombone player, and FCA member at Bryan before he took his talents to Bluffton University, where as a sophomore he was a mere 24 hours away from making his first start at second base during the Beavers' spring baseball trip to Florida.

But five years ago Friday, the bus carrying Bluffton's team was involved in a horrendous crash on I-75 in the Atlanta area, killing seven people, five of them ballplayers, one of them Toledo native David Betts.

We all remember the carnage, the acid dripping into the pit of our stomachs as the video began rolling on CNN in the early morning hours of March 2, 2007.

We followed it for days in every newspaper, on every TV station in America.

Some dab eyes, others hold back tears as ground is broken for Bryan’s David Betts Double Play Diamond site. David was a member of the Bluffton University baseball team when the team bus crashed. Some dab eyes, others hold back tears as ground is broken for Bryan’s David Betts Double Play Diamond site. David was a member of the Bluffton University baseball team when the team bus crashed.
THE BLADE/LORI KING Enlarge | Buy This Photo

Unlike many sad stories, this wasn't something that happened to someone else from somewhere else. It was personal. It was a team from a small northwest Ohio university and the victims were from northwest Ohio. One of the most seriously injured was from southeast Michigan.

Zachary Arend, Oakwood; David Betts, Bryan; Scott Harmon, Elida; Cody Holp, Arcanum/Lewisburg; Tyler Williams, Lima; bus driver Jerry Niemeyer and his wife, Jean, Columbus Grove.

Yes, we remember the dead, the day, the story, the tragedy.

We should know about the triumph too.

On Friday, in Bryan, ground was broken on a 14,000-square-foot indoor baseball and softball practice facility next to the YMCA, just a long fly ball from the high school's playing fields. Construction will begin next month, weather permitting, and should be completed by fall. It is on an eight-acre site that will eventually include four outdoor practice fields in a parklike setting.

Not a dollar of taxpayer money will go into this project. The Bryan Baseball Association and the Bryan Girls Softball Association have committed to raising a combined $75,000. David Betts' parents have raised $60,000 from friends and family. The Bryan High athletic boosters are in for $10,000. Organizers have applied to Major League Baseball for a $75,000 grant from its "Baseball Tomorrow Fund," and a key site visit by MLB is less than a week away. It shouldn't hurt that the Bryan area has three players in the pro baseball ranks.

If you have been calculating and reading at the same time, it adds up to $220,000, providing MLB comes through. The total price tag is about $500,000. The rest?

David Betts is picking up the tab. And it will be called the David Betts Double Play Diamond.

Shortly after David's death, his parents formed a foundation in his name with memorial contributions and, later, insurance proceeds. Through sound investments that money has been turned into a lot more money. The earlier reference to philanthropy was not made lightly.

John and Joy Betts have suffered this most personal of losses in the most public way. Twenty-five days after the bus crash, I sat in the Betts' home for three hours, a total stranger, and left feeling as if we had been lifelong friends. By then, I knew David and the Betts' three other kids almost as well as I knew my own.

That day, Joy admitted to being haunted by the realization that such a great young man was not allowed to grow into a great adult.

"You think a lot about what he could have been or could have done," she said. "I guess this was just meant to be, that David's memory is left to inspire other kids to live well and do well."

Thus, the scholarships, the athletic equipment, the musical instruments, the FCA contributions and, now, the indoor facility that will keep David Betts' name alive in Bryan for as many years as it stands.

It will feature a full artificial turf infield and basepaths, six batting cages with a netting system, mobile pitching mounds to accommodate both baseball and softball, and dugouts.

Once complete, the facility will be run by a nonprofit board and operating expenses will come from fund-raising by the participating organizations and, perhaps, modest facility rental fees.

"David loved kids and loved baseball, so put those two together and I know he'll be happy with this project," John Betts said. "He touched so many lives, and he'll continue to for many, many years.

"The money he has given, and will give, is being used to keep his heart beating."

And there's the triumph.

Contact Dave Hackenberg at: dhack@theblade.com or 419-724-6398



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