When a new Elmhurst Elementary School was built on what had been a ballfield next to its predecessor, the project's budget didn't include any money to create a replacement ballfield once the old building came down.
But the school PTA wasn't about to let the school and its surrounding neighborhood go without a ballfield, and its $7,000-plus fund-raising effort culminated Friday in the new field's dedication to the memory of a local parent who was very active in coaching youth recreational sports.
"It's very fitting," Jack Sculfort, a family friend, said of the naming of Jim Cherry Memorial Field during a ribbon-cutting ceremony attended by the Elmhurst student body, staff, and numerous parents. "Jim was such a teacher at heart. He loved sports, but he really was a teacher. He taught the lessons of life, through sports."
"This is a great tribute to my father, and we're all very proud," said Rob Cherry, the second-oldest of Mr. Cherry's four sons, who now teaches special-needs students at Start High School. "We're tickled to death about all this support," he added afterward. "It's good to see that the community's still strong here."
Jim Cherry, an insulation installer and construction worker by trade, died at age 50 in 2003 of liver failure caused by hepatitis C he contracted from a blood transfusion during surgery more than two decades earlier. He had coached youth baseball and football in the Elmhurst area of West Toledo - east of Secor Road and north of Sylvania Avenue - for many years, and shortly before his passing had started a basketball league too.
"He was a baseball icon in the Elmhurst community," said John Tincher, the school's principal. "You mention his name here, and everybody knows who you're talking about."
"The parents of Elmhurst sold a lot of cookie dough to make this a reality," City Councilman Tom Waniewski said before reading a proclamation for the occasion.
"I just didn't expect this," said Nancy Cherry, Mr. Cherry's widow. "It's so special. Elmhurst is still making wonderful memories for my family.
"He would have loved it. He was a person for everyone," she added after participating in a first-pitch toss, using specially inscribed baseballs.
Mr. Tincher said the previous field at the school also had been dedicated to Mr. Cherry after his death, and school leaders had pledged to find a way somehow to create a replacement after the building's construction, even though they didn't know right away how to pay for it.
The principal promised the crowd that the new field "will only get better from what you see today," and it indeed is a work in progress.
Beyond the infield made from fine "screening" stone, there remains some very rough dirt that needs levelling and seeding, which Deb Pawlaczyk, the Parent-Teacher Association's president, said the group hopes to get done within a few weeks.
And Moriah Yant, a vice president of the PTA, said there are plans for more parking spaces, spectator seating, and additional fences.
But all of that costs more than initial fund-raising could provide for, she said, and the most important thing was, "We wanted our kids to have a place to play."
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