From left, Lance Gieselmann, Dothan Mayor Mike Schmitz, Angela Dunning, Ozark Mayor Billy Blackwell and Steve Sherrill of the Ozark Department of Leisure Services pose during a press conference in Ozark on Monday.

OZARK – Spring wasn’t in the air on Monday morning, but that didn’t dampen the enthusiasm of Angela Dunning as she spoke during a press conference about the 2016 Bojangles Hits for Heroes baseball extravaganza.

While the event scheduled for February may seem like a long time away, Dunning realizes it’s never too early to start drumming up support for an event that continues to grow by leaps and bounds.

“ We’re excited to announce that in addition to a week of games in Dothan, the City of Ozark will also be hosting a week of Hits of Heroes games at historic Eagle Stadium,” said Dunning, who is the organizer of the event.

This will mark the fourth year of Hits for Heroes, which is used as a fundraiser to send care packages to deployed military troops. A year ago, almost $62,000 was raised during the event.

“ Hits for Heroes is a non-project organization created right here in the Wiregrass with a goal to honor, encourage and support true American heroes through their favorite pastime – baseball,” Dunning said.

It will begin on Saturday, Feb. 13, at Northcutt Field in Dothan with seven days of games and will be continued two weeks later, beginning Feb. 29, with five days of games at Eagle Stadium in Ozark.

Since high school baseball teams can’t begin play until Monday, Feb. 15, the opening night of Hits for Heroes will involve a game between local junior college teams Wallace College of Dothan and Enterprise Community College.

Before the junior college contest, there will be a feature game involving some local coaches, veterans and media personalities to go along with a huge opening ceremony.

“ Our goal is to get those high school teams there to see those opening ceremonies,” Dunning said.

Once the high school teams swing into action on Feb. 15, there will be 32 teams playing during the 12 total days of games at Northcutt Field and Eagle Stadium.

While the bulk of the teams are from throughout the Wiregrass, other participants include Saint Paul’s Academy from Mobile, Bibb County High School, W.S. Neal High School and five teams from Florida – Niceville, Chipley, Crestview, Graceville and Marianna.

Before each game, players and coaches with military ties will be recognized.

“ We know in advance how many coaches and players have military families – whether it’s their parents or their siblings – and you would be surprised that a lot of their teammates don’t even know that they have military roots,” Dunning said.

“ It just a way for us to say, ‘Hey, we realize your family has made a commitment to the service of our country and we want to thank you for it.’’’

Along with sending care packages to troops through a partnership with the USO, the games are also used to contribute money to Jeep Sullivan’s Wounded Warriors Outdoor Adventures, a non-profit organization which puts together outdoors activities for disabled veterans.

Lance Gieselmann of Hartford, a disabled veteran who is retired from the U.S. Army, is among those who have taken an active role in Hits for Heroes.

He’s been amazed by the reception he gets by the players.

“ Every one of them will go out their way to shake your hand,” Gieselmann said. “You can tell they’ve been taught respect. I used to see veterans doing things out in the community when I was little, and now I’m that veteran.

“ She’s (Dunning) fired up about it and anything to help the military I’m going to try and do it.”

Sponsorships are available for the event. For more information, go to www.hitsforheroes.org .

Follow Jon Johnson on Twitter @eaglesportsed

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