“Miracles are a retelling in small letters of the very same story which is written across the whole world in letters too large for some of us to see.”
– C.S. Lewis
Imagine a baseball field without dirt. The ground is rubber and flat. The bases are inset into the ground. You could roll a baseball or a golf ball or, more importantly, a wheelchair across it unobstructed.
Unobstruction. That's the hope behind New Hanover County's first fully accessible public baseball field and playground, The Miracle Field at Olsen Park, which is set to open at 9 a.m. Saturday (Aug. 3). The park off North College Road includes Brax Stadium baseball field and an accessible playground through the nonprofit Accessible Coastal Carolina Events Sports and Services (ACCESS).
Park director Bo Dean knows there will be miracles in that park. He's already seen them.
“One of the miracles has been the giving from the community of more than $2 million in gifts and in kind,” Dean added. “It's seeing that unity of spirit focused on inclusion and seeing that a child who never had that ability to play now gets to.”
In New Hanover, Brunswick, Pender and Columbus counties, almost 20 percent of the population qualifies as disabled. That's higher than the state average of about 14.5 percent, according to the most recent American Community Survey.
“The question should be why weren't we doing this before. We have the opportunity to change lives,” Dean said.
University of North Carolina Wilmington recreation therapy professor and ACCESS chairman Dan Johnson is thrilled the park he envisioned years ago is becoming a reality.
“It's grown so much. Part of the miracle is that people keep stepping up,” he said, while attending a breakfast for The disAbility Resource Center. “People will have the opportunity to create programs that match their interests and their family's interests.”
Here are 10 miracles of the Miracle Field
- Accessible baseball – Children and adults of all ages and with many different types of disabilities will be able to play baseball games on the Miracle Field at Brax Stadium because of its flat, rubber surface and embedded bases.
- Largest accessible playground in the South – According to Carolina Parks and Play, the playground at the Miracle Field is the largest accessible playground in the South.
- Going where they haven't gone before – ACCESS Vice Chairman David Morrison was the first to roll his wheelchair up to the top of the playground equipment. It was his first time climbing a playground tower. As he drove up the incline to the top tower, Dean said all the construction workers on the site stopped their work to watch him. As he reached the top, they clapped and cheered. “The highest point is 24 feet so when you get up there you're looking over everything, and the climb itself is really exhilarating and special for my family and friends,” Morrison said. “Being at the top, realizing what we had done, is amazing.”
- Playdates – The Children's Development Center for Easter Seals UCP has a small accessible playground at its Military Cutoff location, “but for children from different programs at the centers to be able to come here and play together, that will be amazing,” said Leslie Owens, local development manager for Easter Seals UCP.
- Shade for all bleachers — Because some children with autism have sensory issues that distract them from playing sports, Dean said the Miracle Field's bleachers are designed with shade awnings so children can focus more on the game.
- Roll bar slides — The playground is equipped with roll bar horizontal and vertical slides that help stimulate the senses.
- Medical benefits of play — The University of Rochester Medical Center's website said: “Special needs children are sometimes not encouraged to exercise because their parents or guardians fear they'll be injured. But physical activity is as important for special needs children, as it is for any child. Participating in sports can help instill a sense of self-confidence and improve skills in relationship building and working as part of a team. And it can help in weight management, a universal problem among today's kids.”
- An amusement ride — The playground includes two “amusement ride” types of equipment – a Sway Fun chair that allows several people to sit and rock the entire chair back and forth and a low-to-the-ground merry-go-round.
- Community partnerships — Dean hopes the park can partner with UNCW students for research or with New Hanover County Schools to bring students with special needs to experience the park.
- A message of inclusiveness – “From my perspective, something's operating here that's much greater than ourselves for this to happen,” the director added. “We're finally able to get that message out that everybody has worth.”