There’s no reason a kid in a wheelchair shouldn’t feel like Jason Heyward for a day.
The Miracle League and its remarkable handicap-accessible baseball field should open in April, roughly around the time Newton County Recreation begins its baseball season, league spokeswoman Tamara Richardson said Monday.
The field itself is located in City Pond Park, not far from the park’s six lighted fields. Unlike the others, it will be covered in artificial turf (not rubberized as originally planned) and designed for the safety of “children of all abilities,” Richardson said.
More than 2,500 children in the Newton County school system have “mental or physical challenges” that would otherwise preclude them from playing rec-league ball, she said.
“It’s a much higher number than many people think,” she said. “And that’s just children in the Newton County school system. That does not include adults.”
The league will serve the physically and mentally challenged from ages “four to 104,” she said. “We definitely want adults to feel comfortable and feel part of the league.”
Construction on the field, an adjoining all-access playground and a league building began in September 2012. The $1.7 million project is funded through a loan from Newton Federal Bank based on $1.5 million through SPLOST. The remaining money has been raised locally through donations to The Friends of Newton County Miracle League Inc., a nonprofit group.
The field is almost done; the turf is down. Pavers have been bought and will be placed around the field for safe walking. The playground is finished except the rubber surface. The plan includes a second, 250-foot-long multiuse field, available to the public no matter their physical or mental abilities.
The idea is for handicapped kids to be able to play beside their unhindered peers.
“All kids just want to be kids,” Richardson said.
The Miracle League field will be used for strictly baseball for the first year, with other sports likely to be tried on the artificial turf as time goes on, she said. Consideration is being given to baseball, football, bocce and soccer.
Most construction on the facilities has been done by inmates from the Georgia Department of Corrections, which has saved hundreds of thousands of dollars but resulted in inevitable delays, Richardson said. The inmates are only available to work Mondays through half-day Thursdays, and coupled with the rain the past few years the project has been delayed by months.
The Miracle League will be similar in most ways to the Rec League, in that players will sign up, coaches will choose who goes to what team, and “they’ll be Pirates and Braves, just like Newton Rec’s teams.”
There will be a small fee for play, but Richardson said the idea is to keep it very small through team and corporate sponsors. Families with challenged children “have so many more expenses than you and I have; it’s a goal to keep the cost very minimal.”
Team sponsorships are $500; corporate sponsorships are $1,000.
The field will include a video scoreboard, “just like Turner Field,” she said.
For more information, or to view videos of the field and kids in action, visit miracleleagueofnewtoncounty.com. Newton County Commissioner Lanier Sims designed the website.
“It’ll put a knot in your throat looking at” the kids playing, Richardson said. “It’s been a labor of love, long in the coming.”
All interest paid on Newton Federal’s loan is through private money, incidentally. No taxpayer dollars were involved in the loan, she said.