A new place for building Courage, strength

Sports complex named for 9-year-old who died of leukemia dedicated

By Stephanie Rice, Columbian Vancouver city government reporter

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The night before Saturday's dedication of Luke Jensen Sports Park, Clark County Commissioner Marc Boldt went to visit Luke's grave site at Crawford Cemetery in Battle Ground. "It's a very peaceful place," said Boldt. "It represents the day he was born, and the day he died."

"This is to remember how Luke lived," Boldt said of the 20-acre sports complex in Northeast Hazel Dell, which opened in March but was formally dedicated Saturday.

Boldt's wife is a cousin of Luke's father, and Boldt got choked up as he shared memories of Luke, who was diagnosed with leukemia shortly before his seventh birthday.

Luke, described on a plaque at the park as "a little boy with a personality like a ball of fire," died in 2010 at age 9.

Luke attended King's Way Christian Schools, where his father, Steve, serves as a principal.

Cliff Yount, a volunteer for Salmon Creek Little League, suggested naming the park after Luke. When the public was invited to vote on seven potential names, about 95 percent of the 4,000 people who voted agreed with Yount's choice.

Steve and Vikki Jensen attended Saturday's dedication with son Jake, 14, and daughter Tori, 9.

"I just have to say there's no way we can adequately thank you, the

community and the community leaders," Jensen told the assembled crowd, which included Commissioners Tom Mielke and Steve Stuart, Vancouver Mayor Tim Leavitt and State Rep. Ann Rivers.

Jensen said during the course of Luke's treatment, he and Vikki became acquainted with many local families with children who are facing cancer or other life-threatening diseases.

"The naming of this park is about each one of those kids," Jensen said. "Brave kids facing extraordinary circumstances, and doing so with strength and courage."

The plaque, which was installed on the wall of the concession stand, reads in part, "Like many boys his age, Luke loved playing baseball and soccer, building with Legos and fighting with toy light sabers. When he learned shortly before his seventh birthday that he had leukemia, he was very afraid."

"Luke had a favorite saying about how he faced his cancer," the inscription reads. "'I don't have time to worry about the bad things that could happen. I'm too busy thinking about the happy things that have happened.'"

Johnson remembered

Hundreds of people were at the park Saturday.

The events started at 8:45 a.m. with a flag raising in memory of U.S. Army Cpl. Jeremiah Johnson, who died in 2007 at age 23 from injuries suffered in Iraq. Johnson, a standout center fielder for Prairie High School, played T-ball for Salmon Creek Little League, one of the sports park's primary users.

Britnee Kellogg, an American Idol contestant, sang "The Star-Spangled Banner."

At 9 a.m., Salmon Creek Little League played its championship games, after which the league had a closing ceremony and announced All-Stars.

The 12:30 p.m. dedication was followed by a celebrity kickball game to help raise money for Dream Big Community Center, a nonprofit organization that helps local teenagers.

Stuart and Leavitt were team captains, and Clark County Sheriff Garry Lucas was umpire. Stuart's team members included Steve and Vikki Jensen, while Leavitt's team included Clark College President Bob Knight.

Leavitt's team won, 4-2.

Park honored

Also Saturday, the county commissioners accepted an award from the nonprofit Washington Recreation & Park Association, which named the Luke Jensen Sports Park "Best Sports Complex," in 2012 for communities with more than 35,000 people.

The sports park, 4000 N.E. 78th St., can be used for baseball, softball, soccer, lacrosse, field hockey and football. In 2010, the county commissioners signed a memorandum of understanding between the county, Vancouver First Church of God and King's Way Christian Schools. The 25-year agreement sets out the terms for shared use of parking and fields as well as maintenance; many attendees Saturday had to park at the church or school and walk over to the sports complex.

The project has not been without some controversy.

The land is a federal Superfund site because of chromium and volatile organic compounds in groundwater at least 50 feet beneath the surface, a fact often repeated by neighbors who were in opposition to the park. The Environmental Protection Agency said there's no danger of exposure, and in 2010 a hearings examiner said there's no credible evidence supporting the idea that contaminated groundwater will ever reach the surface.

The park includes a multipurpose field with synthetic turf and lights, two Little League fields with natural grass, two small T-ball fields with synthetic turf, batting cages, a playground and picnic tables. Most of the construction, which started in April 2011, has been completed, with the exception of drainage for two grass fields.

Funding for the $9.1 million sports park came from property taxes collected by the Greater Clark Parks District and real estate excise taxes. The park was developed by Clark County Public Works and Vancouver-Clark Parks and Recreation.

Stephanie Rice: 360-735-4508 or stephanie.rice@columbian.com.