Coffel Baseball Legacy Lives on in Dowell

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By Hilary LeHew

DOWELL -- Hundreds are rallying together in Dowell this weekend to celebrate the life of Darren Coffel.

Coffel died last week in a head-on collision. Now, friends and family are holding a wooden bat tournament to honor the man and build a fund for the son he leaves behind. And the field that helped build Coffel's legacy, now lives on in his name.

"Father, we know that it was more than baseball that he was building. He was building young men's lives so they could, in turn, impact the world around them," prayed Reverend Gary Pruitt.

Mayor Dennis Stewart says Coffel's influence stretched beyond Jackson County. Coffel founded the Southern Illinois Fall wooden bat league and a team called the Sun Dawgs.

"We had people from Harrisburg, all the way to Chester, all the way up to Mt. Vernon. It wasn't just a Dowell team or a local team, it was a regional team," explains Stewart.

And at the crack of a bat, all of those teams came together Saturday to remember Coffel.

"No better fitting way to celebrate the life of Darren Coffel than being under the sun and the clouds, with the breeze in our hair, playing baseball," says life-long friend Jason Coffer, before they unveiled a sign naming the park after Coffel.

Coffer says all the money raised from the raffle, silent auction, and food and t-shirt sales will go toward an education fund for Coffel's son Chase, 13, who shares his father's love for the sport.

"His first game back after the untimely loss of his dad, was a regional game, Elverado Junior High, he pitched a no-hitter," says Coffer.

Organizers plan to hold another memorial next year. In the meantime, they'll carry on Coffel's legacy and love for the game.

"We're going to keep the SIFL league going, we're going to move ahead with that," says Coffer. "We're not going to let Darren's dream fall by the wayside, we're going to keep it going."

The tournament will continue Sunday at 9 a.m. in Dowell.

If you'd like to donate to the Chase Coffel Benefit Fund, you can visit the Murphy-Wall Bank in Pinckneyville, Murphysboro, or Elkville.
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