Realizing a dream: Finally, the call to ‘play ball’ is heard at new sports complex
By Gail Geraghty
Saturday’s Fun Day at Bridgton’s new Kendal C. & Anna Ham Recreation Complex began with rain, but ended with sunshine, and throughout it all were smiles. And the broadest, most frequent smiles belonged to board members, both past and present, of the Bridgton Recreation Advancement Group (BRAG), who understood more than most just what it took to create three baseball fields, one softball field and soccer fields from a 21-acre wild woodlot.
“What a joy this is…I’m so tickled,” said Jim Quinn, BRAG board member and project manager. Quinn has volunteered countless hours overseeing creation of the athletic fields, which are now complete and will be ready for regular play next spring. “To go from trees (pointing to tall pines beyond the clearing) to this,” he beamed, his arms swept wide, “I can’t tell you how exciting this is.”
The deep sense of BRAG’s accomplishment since its inception 16 years ago was more solemnly observed when father and son Dan and Bill Macdonald stood with hands on hearts and chins uplifted, as a recording of The Star Spangled Banner signaled the start of the first game played on the new Roger and Mary Macdonald baseball field, named in memory of Dan’s parents and Bill’s grandparents.
Teams from Gorham and Harrison were the first from the Sebago-Long Lake Cal Ripken Baseball League to play on the field at noon, but others followed as the afternoon wore on. At the adjacent baseball field, Ham Charitable Foundation Director and Trustee Bruce Chalmers threw out the first pitch before play began on the second baseball field. Under rules set up by BRAG’s Board of Directors, the Macdonalds’ $50,000 contribution gave them naming rights on one field; a second field is called the Eddie Rolfe Baseball Field, in honor of Rolfe, who donated the land. The third field where Chalmers presided has yet to be named, and BRAG Board President Bill Macdonald is hopeful the awareness generated by the Sept. 22 Fun Day will lead to another big donor stepping (literally) up to the plate.
Although attendance was well below anticipated levels, there was a steady stream of visitors throughout the day, enjoying the baseball games, youth soccer games by area recreation departments, games of kickball, T-square and a Home Run Derby put on as a fundraiser at the Laurie Carter Bergen Softball Field. A bounce house, cotton candy and popcorn along with a free cookout added a festive feel to the day. Laurie’s parents, BRAG Board
Vice President Larry Carter and BRAG Fundraising Chairperson Lyn Carter, have raised $40,000 to date to pay for naming honors on the softball field, and hope to raise the remaining $10,000 by next April (see sidebar to this story).
In all, BRAG has raised and spent $700,000 so far on site preparation, design and creation of the fields and fencing. The nonprofit organization needs to raise another $500,000 to complete the project, with lighting, a playground, basketball and tennis courts, parking lot, septic system and a concession stand still to come. Bill Macdonald said the formal turnover of the complex to the town of Bridgton (which has also been a major contributor) will come within the next couple of years, after which BRAG will still continue to exist to oversee continued building and improvements.
“We’re exceeding what we promised to the town,” he said, pointing out that BRAG had a period of inactivity after its founding in 1997 under the leadership of Paul Hoyt, a Bridgton Selectman. But it was re-energized when Steve Hatch came on board as the organization’s second president. “He started the walking and we did the running,” Macdonald said, referring to the current board, whose members, beside himself, Quinn and Larry Carter, are Sarah Davis (treasurer), Julia Edwards (secretary) and Dan Edwards, Lyn Carter, Jon Evans, Willie Angelo, Carrie Bush and Corinne Davis.
Bill Macdonald said Saturday’s event was pretty emotional for him; a few days previous, he and others were pulling weeds and doing last-minute preparations when, as the sun went down, a glow illuminated the fields with a soft light, as if to bless a job well done. “It’s pretty emotional, just to sit there and think about two years ago,” he said, when funding was uncertain. “A year ago last August, this was all just grass. It took all the meetings, the fundraising, the arguments — and people who’ve stepped out of the blue” to get to where things stand today. He said once the lighting is installed, the fields, which were designed with high-quality materials and an eye toward a future trend toward longer pitching mounds, will easily be able to compete with any other complex in the Northeast for Cal Ripken tournaments to be held in Bridgton.
In Laurie’s honor
Dan Macdonald caught up with Lyn Carter Saturday beside the new softball field named in honor of Laurie Carter Bergen, late daughter to Lyn and Larry, of Casco.
“Is this the day you’ve been waiting for?” he asked her, as if he didn’t already know the answer.
Of course it was; but Saturday’s Fun Day at Bridgton’s Kendal C. and Anna Ham Recreation Complex was more of an appreciation day for the community to see the completed fields. The real day that’s awaited will be the Grand Opening next April, when softball games will begin in earnest on the Laurie Carter Bergen Softball Field. That day will also, hopefully, mark the completion of the Carter’s lengthy and dedicated effort to raise the $50,000 necessary to pay for naming rights to the field.
On Saturday, however, the Carters were still able to be gratified by the temporary sign that had been erected above the catcher’s mound, and marvel that they are very close to making their dream a reality. And the accomplishment is all the more gratifying because the $40,000 they’ve raised so far has come from many small donations from many people in the community who wanted to support their goal.
“We’ve worked very, very hard,” said Lyn, who also serves as a board member and fundraising chairperson for the Bridgton Recreation Advancement Group, while Larry is the board’s vice president. BRAG’s efforts spanning the last decade to create the complex. “But we knew we could do it, and we’d do anything for our family, with the help of the community,” Lyn said.
Laurie Carter Bergen died three years ago from a heart condition five weeks after giving birth to her daughter, Kayla Rose. The loss is still fresh every day in the couples’ mind and heart, and paying for a field in her honor is their way of dealing with their grief, while also contributing significantly to the $700,000 spent so far on the Ham Complex.
Week after week, for two and a half years, they’ve worked to raise the funds by holding four Chinese Auctions, three or four baked bean suppers (she’s lost count), craft fairs, a sold-out concert with comedian Bob Marley at Lake Region High School and a golf tournament at the Bridgton Highlands Country Club. Another craft fair is planned for Saturday, Oct. 27 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Bridgton Community Center.
“We’re renting tables for $20 each,” she said. “We’ve got a few more things we want to do.”
You wouldn’t think she’d have time to also raise money for BRAG’s overall needs, but that’s just what she does. She is currently leading another fundraising effort to sell 8”-by-8” paving bricks inscribed in the memory of loved ones that will be used in creating the walkway to and the area around the complex’s concession stand.
The Carters are unusual among baseball parents, in that both of them have stayed very involved in the Sebago-Long Lake Cal Ripken Baseball League long after their children have grown to adulthood. Larry, who played baseball in his younger days, is the current president of the league, which covers Sebago, Bridgton, Casco, Raymond, Waterford, Harrison and Naples, and has led the league for 18 years. He also is assistant commissioner for Cal Ripken Baseball in Maine.
After joining BRAG to help it along with his Cal Ripken connections, Larry said, “We thought, why not be the first to have a field named for our daughter, who loved softball? Her time playing for Tux Burke with the Chickadees ASA Tournaments were so much fun for her and her sister Jan, as they were appreciated more than some previous teams they played on,” he said. “Sports is what Laurie loved, and what better way to honor her?
Larry encouraged all his children to join athletic teams. Laurie and her twin sister Jan were the first two girls from LRHS to play varsity softball as freshmen, and both went on as adults to play in a travelling league in Wells, winning many league championships. Older sister Denise played soccer, and both brothers, David and Alan, played baseball. David was on the winning Maine State Baseball Team two years in a row, Lyn said.
“They loved it,” Lyn said of Laurie and Jan, who would get their duffle bags ready way in advance of when they needed to leave for games. “They couldn’t wait to play softball,” and Laurie, who was a short stop, played the game for 23 out of the 26 years of her life. They started out at age three or four playing T-ball for Casco Recreation.
“It means a lot to the whole family to have the field named after our daughter, because she was a great athlete,” said Lyn. “As the field gets played on, people will remember who the field was named for” — a person who loved softball, and put all of her energy into playing the game, and playing it well.
“She is missed so much by all,” said Larry. “But now generations of girls can enjoy her beautiful field.”
Donations may be made to the Laurie Carter Bergen Softball Field by mailing the Carters at 16 Kathryn Boulevard, Casco, ME 04015.