WESTVILLE — Some of Jerry Beckley’s earliest Westville memories pertain to sports.
He moved to the village as a fourth-grader in the late-1970s and immediately was drawn to playing baseball at Zamberletti Park, which presently hosts four diamonds for either baseball or softball athletes among other recreational features.
“I hit my very first home run right over there,” said Beckley, pointing to a portion of Andrew Youhas Baseball Field’s fence. “We’ve got the most beautiful park in the whole east central Illinois, in my opinion. I want to stay here and continue making it better for the next guy.”
That’s exactly what the 53-year-old Beckley is doing as president of the 13-member Westville Recreation League.
The paramedic supervisor with Carle Arrow Ambulance Services took over the role in April 2018 from previous league leader Allan Mackiewicz, who died in December 2019 after battling cancer.
Beckley has been part of the league in some capacity since 2011.
The phrase “#MACKSTRONG” now resides on a sign along Youhas Field’s fence.
“When him and I took over, the board before us said ... ‘Please make sure you have dugouts for the T-ballers,’” Beckley said. “Allan was 100 percent instrumental in getting the T-ballers some shade and some dugouts. ... And so he was able to bring the community together, and he was able to bridge that gap between the rec league and the village. And now we have a voice.”
Beckley has spent his presidential tenure helping Westville’s youth through Zamberletti Park. One of the latest examples of this occurred during the 2020-21 school year, when Westville High School softball coach Randy Skaggs approached Beckley about securing home games for the Tigers’ baseball and softball teams while their usual fields were undergoing renovations.
“He said he would love to see some teamwork between the high school and recreation department,” Skaggs said. “We ended up redoing all four of their rec diamonds. That was kind of cool. ... We wanted to make Youhas Field, where we played, nice. It was his vision as well. We wanted to make all the ball diamonds as nice as they could be.”
Skaggs said Youhas Field received a face lift on its infield, foul poles, fencing and public address system. A turf batter’s box called a Jox Box also was installed. Zamberletti Park’s other three ball fields — Sole Field, Steve Maddox Memorial Field and the T-ball field — also have seen improvements.
Beckley credited “a very large donation” for allowing at least some of that work to commence. He said that gift was given to the recreation league prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the board held onto it while the pandemic wiped out the 2020 recreation league athletic seasons.
“We were able to take the money from our fundraisers and the donation and sprinkle a little bit of pixie dust on it and make the fields look the way they do,” Beckley said. “Some of the parents of the seniors, some of the parents of the juniors, heck some of the parents of the freshmen came up to us and said, ‘Man, thanks for doing this and thanks for being here for the kids.’”
Beckley has two sons, aged 13 and 10, who could be part of the local high school baseball program one day. That was on his mind when determining how to allocate money available to the board.
“I want everybody to have their fair shake,” Beckley said. “Every high school senior needs to play a home game, right? ... We moved our rec league schedule around. We pushed everything back a couple hours or didn’t schedule anything on the night we had a home game here.”
The first game to be held at the renovated fields occurred May 17 in recreation league action.
“Our longtime umpire (known as Big John) that’s been here since I was a kid was able to call a first strike,” Beckley said. “I’ll never forget the cold chills I got when I heard that.”
Beckley credited his fellow members for stepping up to volunteer for various duties during Zamberletti Park’s high school games in the springtime.
Megan Hughes has been on the board for three years. She said Beckley has impacted both the recreation league and the village as a whole with his work.
“He spends countless hours at the park doing (work on) the fields. ... The moments he’s not working (his full-time job) he’s at the fields,” Hughes said. “There’s been plenty of times we tell him he needs to go home, because he doesn’t. He’s always there to give advice and help out.”
Hughes pointed out that Beckley will go to great lengths to make kids feel like all-stars on the diamond.
“Even if he’s just announcing the T-ballers at the game, he enjoys it as much as they do,” Beckley said. “He loves seeing the smiles on their faces and seeing the enjoyment they get from that. He doesn’t have to do that.”
Skaggs has seen the revamped Zamberletti Park draw plenty of people — for baseball and softball games, as well as for other purposes.
“It’s going to be nice to go back to the school and play on the turf, but the attendance and the atmosphere (at Zamberletti) was outstanding and the kids loved it,” Skaggs said. “Going down there on a Saturday, there were people playing on all four diamonds, kids playing football, the basketball court was full (and) the playground was full. ... It’s so awesome that the community has a great place to go.”
Beckley doesn’t seek any praise for the recreation-based charge he’s leading in Westville. The way he sees it, putting time and energy into Zamberletti Park is good for teaching kids about more than coming out ahead on the scoreboard.
“I don’t care if we ever win a game. I just want to help raise some good humans,” Beckley said, “and I want to give them an opportunity to hang out and to take an hour a day and not have to worry about anything else but making a throw to first base.”