Wednesday, September 21, 2016 - Updated: 1:05 AM
CALDWELL COUNTY -- On a summer night in 2008, 12-year-old Jake Hodge went to bed and never woke up again. He was by all appearances a healthy, athletic child; and while the mystery surrounding his death has never been solved, his family and those around them are working to see his memory is preserved.
Katie Parker, a Cadiz optometrist, and her husband Ken Parker have literally built a field of dreams at their Caldwell County residence, in the form of "Little Busch Stadium," a one-quarter sized replica of the St. Louis Cardinals' home field. As close friends of the Hodge family, the Parkers have used the field to help build a legacy in Jake Hodge's name, hosting an annual wiffle ball tournament to raise money for the Jake Hodge Memorial Foundation, which seeks to offer scholarships to regional athletes. Katie Parker said it was the least the family could do.
"My husband saw Ã¢ Â¦ online, about a wiffle ball field this guy had built in Vermont, and he built 'Little Fenway' and he raised a bunch of money for Ã¢ Â¦ the Travis Roy Foundation," Katie Parker said. "That's where he got the idea for the wiffle ball field. We have three kids -- baseball players -- and we thought, 'wouldn't it be fun to build a wiffle ball field in our backyard?' Ã¢ Â¦ He started showing me all this stuff he wanted to do, and of course I knew it was going to cost a little bit of money to do that and be in my yard, so I said, 'Well, I'm OK with doing it as long as we use it for fundraising, also.
"Shannon and Denis Hodge are good friends of ours," she added. " Ã¢ Â¦ We've known each other since we were teenagers. They have three kids. One of their children just didn't wake up one morning in 2008. Ã¢ Â¦ We were inspired by the way they reacted to that. They're very strong Christian people. Ã¢ Â¦ They started this foundation right after he died, and I thought, 'That's perfect.'"
That effort has continued to grow throughout the years, according to the foundation. The family opened the field for play in 2013, with four teams participating in the first year's tournament. The list of participants have steadily grown in the last four seasons, with more than 15 teams playing and 400 spectators in the three-day tournament at the end of July. This year, the tournament set a new record, raising $26,200 for the foundation; all totaled, the event has brought in $75,500 since its inception.
It's a fitting tribute, Katie Parker said. Hodge was the son of two Crittenden County teachers and coaches, Shannon and Denis Hodge. The memorial foundation, started by the the Hodge family, seeks to grant $1,000 educational scholarships to student athletes who "display honesty, character and integrity," according to the foundation. Recipients are selected based on academic excellence and athleticism, but moreover, they are challenged to lead a purpose-driven life and "leave a positive and profound legacy."
In previous years, students from Crittenden, Lyon, Caldwell and Livingston and Kentucky High School Rodeo were eligible to receive scholarships through the foundation. However, as the tournament grows, so too does the outreach. This year's tournament saw its first team from Trigg County, and the foundation also plans to begin accepting scholarship applications from Trigg County athletes.
Katie Parker said the tournament would also continue to grow. Organizers were looking at potentially extending play options in the coming years. It only mirrors the growth of the field, which has included such additions as "Little Big Mac Land" throughout the years. Katie Parker said friends and owners of local McDonald's franchise establishments had donated money to help construct the area, and assisted in the effort.
"So, if a player hits a home run, they get a free Big Mac, so it works out well," she said. "Also, there's a pit area to sit there Ã¢ Â¦ and per game, you can pay $1, and if a player hits a home run while you're sitting in Big Mac Land, you get a free Big Mac, too. So it's fun, and you watch people, and once they kind of figure it out they'll Ã¢ Â¦ when certain kids are playing they'll rush down there so they can win a Big Mac."
Such growth could be complicated to maintain alone, but Katie Parker said the family had a lot of help along the way to make each year a success. Friends helped to bulldoze and maintain the field, work concessions among.
"That's what is so fun about it, having all those connections kind of come together, and just to be able to do it in the first place," Katie Parker said. "Ã¢ Â¦ One of our friends helped build the fence and worked on the field, they donate their time and materials. Ã¢ Â¦ We do other fundraisers there, but the Jake Hodge Foundation is the biggest fundraiser we do."
Plus, it's just a good time. She said teams were really a hodge-podge, running the gamut of ages and skill levels. Participants began planning for the year early on -- some fundraising for the entire year -- to prepare for the event generally held the first weekend in August. Teams from as far away as Paducah compete, and others from Bowling Green and Tennessee have inquired about joining in the event.
"We like to guarantee (teams) at least two games, and we don't have an entry fee for that," she said. "We like to encourage them to raise about $1,000 Ã¢ Â¦ We help them with learning about fundraising Ã¢ Â¦ and we work on corporate sponsorships from around the area."
For more information about the Jake Hodge Memorial Foundation, visit jakehodgememorialproject.blogspot.com. Contributions to the foundation can be made at Farmers Bank and Trust Co., 201 S. Main St. in Marion.