Organizers expected about 500 residents to participate in the inaugural Greg Wells Memorial Fall Festival Sunday at Freeport Community Park. That estimate turned out to be a little low, as more than 2,000 people showed up to honor the late Freeport youth baseball and football coach.
A Harrison native and Buffalo Township resident, Wells, 44, died of cardiac arrest during a Freeport youth football practice on Aug. 17. He was the husband and father of two boys, Beau and Brody.
Derek Gourley of Buffalo Township, one of the event organizers and vice president of Freeport Youth Baseball, was surprised that the turnout was about four times what he expected.
“It’s about showing the family how important Greg was to this community,” he said. “People were happy to go out and do something for his family. “
Bats were swinging and legs kicking for an afternoon of Wiffle Ball games and an explosion sports complex for kicking and throwing.
A sea of blue Freeport Yellowjacket t-shirts and jerseys filled the park’s baseball fields for a flurry of activities, fun games, raffles, cart rides, a band performance Sunset Drive and makeup.
Baseball and football players enjoyed throwing balls at a dunk tank target to dunk a range of Freeport area coaches. They also bought tickets to throw pies to a crowd of Freeport youth coaches.
Shawn Cooper, a youth baseball coach from Freeport, gladly had a pie thrown in his face as part of the activities. He was more than happy to honor Wells, his longtime friend and fellow coach. Cooper was among eight coaches hit with pies by their players.
“I try to do whatever Greg has done for the community,” he said.
Another Freeport coach, Bill Bricker of Buffalo Township, consented to a bit of discomfort to honor Wells by occupying the dunk tank where 20 or more kids were crowding at a time.
“To see the kids having a great time is what Greg would have wanted,” said Bricker.
And they did.
More than 100 children played Wiffle Ball on three courts at a time in the afternoon, Gourley said.
“I love to kick the ball. It’s so much fun, ”said Cameron Patterson, 11, of Freeport, as he kicked a soccer ball during a blast game to test accuracy. Patterson is a goaltender for a Freeport Area Soccer Association team.
Wells’ family was on hand for the event and were impressed with the activities and the number of people who showed up at the event.
“I am absolutely touched and honored,” said Wells widow Kristen. “My husband would have been honored. The event was the best – the people and the attendance.
Proceeds from the event benefited the Wells family. Those who were unable to attend the event but wish to support the cause can make monetary donations online at one.bidpal.net/wellsaed/welcome.