Charles “Chuck” Albert Poland Jr. wasn’t at Dothan’s Miracle Field Complex Friday night when balloons were released in his memory.
But he had been there many times before.
The school bus driver was part of the “Miracle League Family” when a gunman got on his Dale County bus on Jan. 29, shot and killed Poland and kidnapped 5-year-old Ethan Gilman.
Nearly two dozen other students got away. The gunman held Ethan in an underground bunker for nearly a week before the FBI staged a daring raid that freed Ethan and killed his captor.
On many occasions Poland watched one of his grandsons, Ryan Hancock, play ball on Miracle Field at Westgate Park.
“Grandma and grandpa were always there,” said Barbie Nelson, a special education teacher at Northview High School. “They never missed a game.”
Several members of Poland’s family, including his wife Jan, his daughter and son-in-law Lydia and Eddie Hancock and grandsons Timothy and Ryan Hancock, were at the field Friday when white balloons floated skyward to honor Poland.
Blue balloons marked Ethan’s return to his family and friends.
The Friends Choir and the Praise Team from Grandview provided songs.
Allen Singley, the youth minister at Grandview Baptist Church who officiated the ceremonies, presented a picture drawn by Charles Brackett showing a lineup of superheroes. Included were a drawing of a boy and a man in a bus driver’s outfit, representing Ethan and Poland.
The Miracle League will dedicate the 2013 season to Ethan and Poland at the opening ceremonies on March 23 at 9 a.m.
Meanwhile, the South Dale Athletic Association in Midland City will dedicate the T-ball field to Poland to honor his heroism on April 5 at 6 p.m.
Singley said we can learn a lot from the way Poland spent his last day. The bus driver was willing to give up his life, “not just because he had to but because he wanted to, and he had such love for those children that he was willing to put himself there.”
It could have been his kids on that bus, Singley said, and he believes Poland would have been willing to stand for them and protect them.
“I’m convinced that would have been even greater tragedy had he not done what he did,” Singley said.
Singley said the prayers for Ethan’s safe return were answered.
“It’s amazing sometimes when everything seems against us, we begin to recognize who the source of our strength really is,” Singley said. “So tonight, one of the things that we do is we want to praise the Lord and celebrate what he did by answering that prayer for little Ethan’s life.”