Voters at Tuesday’s TM in Southampton will decide on CPA request for ‘Maddie’s Magical Playground’ at Labrie Field

By EMILY THURLOW

Staff Writer

Published: 05-07-2023 4:00 PM

SOUTHAMPTON — A section of Labrie Field could soon be carved out to immortalize the memory of the late Madeline “Maddie” Schmidt, who died to a rare pediatric cancer in December.

Last February, the Southampton youth was diagnosed with diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma, or DIPG, a highly aggressive brain tumor that occurs in an area of the brainstem that controls many of the body’s vital functions, including breathing and blood pressure. Ten months later, the 8-year-old died of the illness.

Despite her short time on this earth, family and friends say that Schmidt had a big impact on every person she met and have proposed constructing a playground that will be named in her honor.

“I think that it’s very important to her family that some good comes of this tragedy and that Maddie’s spirit will not be forgotten,” said Jenn Capshaw, Schmidt’s aunt. “Maddie did touch everything she did in an amazing way and it’s important that that not go away. She’s just one of those kids who touched people so much in the eight years that she’s lived.”

Voters will decide at Tuesday’s annual Town Meeting whether the project receives Community Preservation Act funding and will carry on the legacy of Schmidt under the name “Maddie’s Magical Playground.” The meeting begins at 7 p.m. at the William E. Norris School.

Community support

Born on Oct. 14, 2014, to Greg and Nora Schmidt of Southampton, Maddie Schmidt was the youngest of three children, and sister to brothers Will and Patrick. Capshaw describes her niece as someone who was smart, often silly, at times sassy, but mostly compassionate, generous and happy.

She was voted as president of her kindergarten class at the Norris School, and was very active, playing soccer, gymnastics and softball. She also loved to ride her bike, scooter and skateboard around her neighborhood, swim, engage in slime and art projects, and had a love for magic shows like those performed by local magician, Ed Popielarczyk.

“She had this energy… she just left a little sparkle wherever she went,” said Capshaw.

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During Schmidt’s cancer battle, community support came poured in through various fundraising events to help offset medical costs, but also to help support nonprofits researching the rare cancer. Throughout the school year, Schmidt’s classmates, teachers and administrators at Norris could be seen sporting her favorite color purple on T-shirts with the words “Magic for Maddie.”

Close friends and relatives of the Schmidt family helped form the Magic for Maddie Committee and Capshaw created the Magic for Maddie LLC. In that effort, the committee has raised and given away more than $100,000 to organizations like ChadTough Defeat DIPG Foundation, the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia DIPG Fund and the Pediatric Palliative Care Program at Baystate Hospital. They’ve also started the Madeline Schmidt Memorial Scholarship program, which will benefit a senior at Hampshire Regional High School each year with a $2,500 scholarship.

A magical playground

With so much community support even after Schmidt’s passing, Capshaw said many still felt the need to do something to maintain Schmidt’s legacy.

“So many people wanted to make something good come of her beautiful life, and so we decided to continue with Magic for Maddie, and this playground is one of several initiatives that we are doing to pay it forward,” said Capshaw.

Shortly after Schmidt’s passing, the committee brought forward a request to build the playground and call it “Maddie’s Magical Playground” in January, according to Mark Reed, chairperson of the town’s Park Commission.

Magic for Maddie Committee member Juliet Locke, an engineer for On Point Construction Services in Agawam, has been leading the effort for the creation of the project. Locke has previous experience on playground projects and helped bring the one at Norris School to fruition.

Reed explained at the April 13 Select Board public hearing that the commission has been working for many years to complete Labrie Field as it was originally envisioned — complete with a fieldhouse and other amenities.

A playground was originally proposed at the site, but was never completed because project bids were much higher than the town could afford.

“We have never been able to complete this,” said Reed. “So we felt that this project would be a wonderful project to try to get another piece of the pie done at Labrie Field.”

Reed also noted that the Park Commission supported the project.

As part of the Magic for Maddie Committee’s proposal, approximately $240,000 would be transfer from the CPC to the Parks Commission to be used toward the project. If approved, the Magic for Maddie Committee intends have volunteers help install the playground equipment and will be in charge of maintaining the playground.

Locke said she has been working within the existing footprint that was marked off for the playground previously — 80 feet by 45 feet — all while keeping the town’s master plan in mind.

The playground is proposed to be accessible to wheelchair users and will comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Currently, the town does not have any playgrounds that are accessible to those who use wheelchairs.

“One of the most difficult parts of Maddie’s battle with DIPG was the last four to five months of her life where she was in a wheelchair, and she could no longer have full use of her body to enjoy things like a playground, but was still there and aware of everything that was going on around her,” said Locke.

As part of that effort, Locke said they toured a couple neighboring towns’ facilities that offer ADA accessibility and started to get a sense of design, and sought pricing from potential vendors.

In their proposal, the playground will include a ramp from the parking lot to the playground, a surface level playing area with panels along the equipment that youth will be able to interact with, an accessible picnic table and an accelerator swing also called a “bird’s nest” that will enable a child and their parents to sit on the swing together.

There will also be a slide and a climbing wall.

“We’re just really excited and we know Maddie would love it,” said Locke. “We couldn’t think of a better place than the Labrie Field within this town to be able to build upon what’s there and offer this extra amenity. We really think that it would serve the community and just be a wonderful location for Maddie’s memory.”

Emily Thurlow can be reached at ethurlow@gazettenet.com.]]>