Coach Helps Fantasy in Lights Parade Swing Into Season of Miracles

In the sports world, it’s not unusual to hear a certain catch, a well-orchestrated play or a come-from-behind victory referred to as a miracle. Christmas is a season for miracles. Not the kind that get a team into the Hall of Fame, but the kind that touch our hearts and restore our souls. Tonight, locals will have a chance to encounter a person who has experienced miracles of both kinds.

Local baseball legend Rich Donnelly will serve as one of the grand marshals for tonight’s Perkins Restaurant and Bakery Fantasy in Lights Parade. A native of Steubenville, Donnelly recently chronicled his life both on the field and off with the new book, The Chicken Runs at Midnight: A Daughter’s Message from Heaven That Changed a Father’s Heart and Won a World Series by ESPN commentator Tom Friend.

Though Donnelly is likely best known for having coached the Miami Marlins to a World Series victory against the Cleveland Indians in 1997, the book tells the inspiring story of Donnelly’s journey back to faith after losing his daughter, Amy, to brain cancer three years earlier.

Watch the video of Donnelly talking about his life, his daughter and “The Chicken Runs at Midnight.”

“For all his efforts, having him as a grand marshal is a tip of the cap to say, ‘thanks for everything you’ve done,’” said Fantasy in Lights Parade Committee Chairman Bill Bryson. “He’s done a lot for the valley, and this is a tip of the cap from all of us on the parade committee and the thousands of people who will see him.”

“For all his efforts, having him as a grand marshal is a tip of the cap to say, ‘thanks for everything you’ve done.’” — Bill Bryson

Donnelly will be escorted through the parade route by members of the West Liberty University baseball team, two of whom Donnelly coached over the summer as part of his annual baseball camp. Bryson, owner of Uniglobe Ohio Valley Travel, said he can recall seeing Donnelly on ballpark tours organized by Uniglobe.

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“We’d run into him when he coached for the Dodgers and Milwaukee and he’d ask, ‘How’s Big Red doing?’” Bryson said. “It’s like his mind was always in the Valley. He might be wearing a Dodgers’ shirt, but his mind was always on the Valley.”


Dr. William Mercer will also serve as a grand marshal tonight, rounding out what Bryson said is a way of recognizing talented community members at a time when we’re all counting our blessings.

“It’s really our chance as a parade committee to call attention to people who are making a contribution,” he said. “As for the parade itself, I think of it as the kickoff to the holiday season. The Festival of Lights has already kicked off, but once the parade hits, the anticipation of the holiday season is in full swing, and being able to start that whole process rolling with a very nice event for the people of the Ohio Valley is great.”

Those who come out to the parade tonight can also look forward to more than 20 marching bands, 45 floats, and dozens of organizations participating, all bedecked in festive lights.

“The city itself, our police, the teamwork that goes into this thing is phenomenal. Anticipation is a keyword, and there’s an excitement that’s in the air,” Bryson said. “I’m really proud of all the efforts of everyone over the last 32 years. We’ve done it all with local people, and we’re a pretty good parade for the region. Plus, we’ve got the real Santa Claus, so that always helps.”

The Perkins Restaurant and Bakery Fantasy in Lights Parade will begin tonight at 6:30 p.m. on Market Street at Centre Market. The Chicken Runs at Midnight is now available wherever books are sold.

Cassie Bendel was born in Wheeling and raised in Bellaire. A graduate of St. Vincent College, she began her writing career as a reporter with The Times Leader and the Steubenville Herald-Star before writing content for SiriusXM Satellite Radio and a national faith-based consulting company. After more than a decade in Pennsylvania, she recently moved back to the Ohio Valley with her husband and two sons.