Field will be designed for disabled youngsters

Next summer, a new baseball field will open for disabled youth, at the Henry S. Parker Athletic Complex.

Called “Project 7 ½” locally, because it will be situated between Fields 7 and 8 at the park, it will encourage participation in the national Little League Challenger Division, founded in 1989, for disabled people 4 to 18 years old, and up to 22 if they are still in school.

“If kids have any of a variety of disabilities, if they’re in a wheelchair, have autism, this is a program that lets them play baseball. It’s played with the buddy system. These kids will get a chance to play on a field designed for them,” explained Assistant County Administrator Weston Young.

Traditional dug-outs on Little League fields and professional fields are not wheelchair compatible, he said, so the idea is to create a ball field that has that compatibility.

“The program has been around for awhile, but the problem we’ve seen is there is not a lot of opportunity for the kids,” said Steve Miller, Director of the Wicomico County Recreation and Parks Department

“We’ll visit other Challenger fields and see how they are built. We plan to have an awareness campaign and launch it next spring. We’ll have a campaign through the Board of Education and Little League. Challenger accepts anybody with special needs,” Miller said.

“The big thing is opportunity. We feel strongly that every kid should have the opportunity to play baseball.

“We boast that the Parker Complex is the hub for baseball but with this program, it really will be the hub. Everybody will have the opportunity to play, with girls and boys mixed,” Miller said.

Miller said information he received from boards of education in Wicomico, Worcester and Somerset counties indicates there are about 3,000 youths with disabilities.

“This will give them an opportunity,” Miller said.

The cost to build the field will be about $500,000, including making it accessible and installing playground equipment.

Half that amount, or $250,000, will be from the state, through Open Space Funds; $200 ,000 will be from the county; and $50,000 from private donations, Young said.

Funding is in the county’s Capital Improvement Plan for 2020.

Reach Susan Canfora at scanfora@newszap.com.

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