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Stan Hochman: Building a field of dreams for kids with special needs

YOU RAISE $700,000 to build a Miracle Field with a sunny smile, a soft voice, a warm handshake, a network of family and friends and the kindness of strangers. And, yo, if there's a $50,000 lawsuit in the mix, so be it.

YOU RAISE $700,000 to build a Miracle Field with a sunny smile, a soft voice, a warm handshake, a network of family and friends and the kindness of strangers. And, yo, if there's a $50,000 lawsuit in the mix, so be it.

They have raised the $700,000 to get the safe, smooth, rubberized field built in Northampton Township, so that kids in wheelchairs can play baseball, alongside other kids with special needs.

Joe Hand Jr. shared the joyful news recently at a fundraising dinner at the Northampton Valley Country Club. An area family, requesting anonymity, donated $150,000. The dinner that night drew 250 and raised another $47,000.

Pete Ciarrocchi, of Chickie's & Pete's, was the master of ceremonies. He's a friend of Hand. The $50,000 lawsuit helped forge the friendship. The friendship was one more ripple in the networking pond, one more heartwarming aspect to the fundraising story.

"I get this envelope," Ciarrocchi told the crowd, "and inside, there's this $50,000 lawsuit, saying we showed the Leonard-Hearns fight in the bar illegally. I wasn't there that night, but we'd had no plans to show the fight.

"It turns out, three of my employees wanted to see the fight, so they went to Radio Shack and bought $200 worth of wire. One of them lived a block away. Hooked up to a television set and ran the wires through a skylight and over the roofs on Mulberry Street and into my joint, the original one on Robbins.

"Joe and his dad are running the closed-circuit for the fight. Someone calls up, the bartender answers, 'Chickie's & Pete's' and in the background they can hear the fight broadcast. Bam.

"My guys wouldn't confess because they knew about the $50,000 lawsuit. I bargained Joe down to $500. So I send him a check for $430 and a huge basket of fruit.

"He calls me up, barking about the fruit, says he thought we agreed on $500. I tell him to look for another $70 check in the bottom of the basket, and we've been friends ever since."

Which is why, on the night of a Flyers playoff game, Ciarrocchi was at the country club, rasping through a live auction, raising money to build the Miracle Field, instead of being hands-on at one of the flourishing Chickie's & Pete's establishments.

It all started with an ice-cream social at Richboro Elementary School and surfed from there. Ace Insurance donated $100,000. State rep Scott Petri requested no gifts at his 50th birthday party, just donations to Miracle Field that totaled $1,000.

"I'm enjoying the ride," Hand confessed. "Meeting all these warm, loving, generous people."

Jerry Wolman was there, selling and signing copies of his lively new book, "The World's Richest Man." Wolman owned the Eagles in the 1960s until his financial empire crumbled and he had to sell to Leonard Tose. He's dedicating a percent of book sales to Miracle Field.

Vince Papale was there, the legendary Eagles walk-on. Papale played for Dick Vermeil. Tose hired Vermeil after he saw UCLA beat Woody Hayes' Ohio State team in the Rose Bowl. Papale's story inspired the movie, "Invincible."

Brent Celek was there. The Eagles tight end and his vivacious wife, Susie, have become ardent supporters of the Miracle Field cause. Celek told the crowd he was living a dream and was thrilled to help kids live their dreams.

Three "generations" of Eagles football represented. Joe Conklin warmed the crowd with his zany humor, his spot-on impersonations. Conklin's niece was Mary Kate Marlow, who died at 11 after a diagnosis of infantile neuroaxonal dystrophy.

She taught adults about courage and kindness. Mary Kate's Legacy honors her memory and the foundation donated $35,000 to the Miracle Field campaign.

At the country club, Papale presented Tom Marlow, Mary Kate's father, with the first Invincible Award. Marlow choked up talking about the lessons learned from his daughter, and how easy a choice it was for the foundation to support Miracle Field.

"I just wish," Marlow said, sobbing, "I could run down to first base with Mary Kate."

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