Friday, February 8, 2008

Gardens softball field dedicated to slain star

Gardens softball field dedicated to slain star

By Stacy Hicklin

South Florida Sun-Sentinel

February 8, 2008

There was something about her smile.

When Tory Buckley closes his eyes and thinks about his daughter, her toothy grin is the first image that springs to his mind.

Palm Beach Gardens softball coach Randy Jackson sees Amanda Buckley making diving catches in the 2005 and 2006 state championship games.

Outfielder Kelsey Hensel, who shared countless laughs with her teammate, still has Amanda's number programmed in her phone. Hensel can't bear to delete it. The only thing worse than missing her friend, is forgetting about her.

That's the sentiment among the people whose lives were touched by Amanda. It is also the reason why those same people are creating a tribute to her — a new softball complex named in her honor at her alma mater.

Amanda, 18, was found dead July 20, 2007, in Jason Shenfeld's bedroom closet in his parents' home near Palm Beach Gardens. Shenfeld, 27, is awaiting trial and faces the death penalty if convicted of first-degree murder in Buckley's death.

Amanda was just a few weeks from beginning her freshman year at Saint Leo University, near Tampa, on a softball scholarship.

Her shocking death touched a nerve.

"She was a child of this community and was like everyone's son or daughter," Tory Buckley said. "It's a nightmare as parents we all dread. But it happened to [my wife] Barbara and me. Most parents dread [something like that happening] and we have to live it."

Tory Buckley says his family has good days and emotionally trying days, but they are grateful for this stadium project to channel their energy.

By the time the project is finished, the school will be the site of a nearly $1 million softball stadium and training facility. The ribbon-cutting ceremony takes place at noon Saturday with a barbecue and concludes with a 7 p.m. game between Gardens and rival Dwyer.

Last April, Jackson and Tory Buckley sat at the old Gator softball field that was being torn down because of construction to build a new school. They needed a plan for a new field. They decided that the old baseball field off Plant Drive and Lilac Drive would be a great location.

And why build just an average field? The two set their sights on building a classy complex. A few days later, Tory Buckley brought up the idea at a Palm Beach Gardens Parks and Recreation Advisory meeting and its members immediately embraced the project. Plans were set in motion for the city to work with the school.

After Amanda's death in July, however, the project took a huge leap in intensity. The goal was no longer a quality field, but a stadium.

Dozens of the area's most talented softball minds showed up for a meeting to create a stadium; a place that would become a destination for softball teams and fans from around the country.

"Word went out about what was going to happen and people came out of the woodwork to be part of this," Tory Buckley said. "This is a tremendous project between the public and private sectors."

Help has come from Palm Beach Gardens' recreation department to its public works to the fire department. Architects, contractors, friends and family have joined the volunteer list as well.

Six weeks ago, work began at the new site and a new field has sprung up seemingly overnight. Phase I of three phases — which entails creating the field, electrical work, refurbishing the dugouts, adding a locker room and storage unit and creating the spectator area — is almost complete. Nearly $250,000 of donated labor and materials have gone into the project already.

Tory Buckley estimates they need to raise at least $500,000 more to complete the work and are looking for corporate sponsors. Those willing to donate money can do so by visiting, the Web site for the foundation created in Amanda's memory.

The foundation originally began as a scholarship fund started in lieu of giving flowers for Amanda's funeral. But because of the overwhelming support it turned into a foundation with the mission of "providing aid, assistance, educational opportunities, training facilities and support to children and families who find themselves in need after tragedies and circumstances beyond their control."

Tory Buckley never dreamed the project would become this massive, but knows that Amanda would love to be part of it.

"I don't want people to forget where she came from or who she is," Hensel added.

Neither does the community. The Amanda Buckley Memorial Field of Dreams Memorial Stadium and Training Facility will stand as silent tribute for decades to come.

Stacy Hicklin can be reached at

No comments: