Special needs children to get purpose-built field in Oxford
by Eddie Burkhalter
eburkhalter@annistonstar.com
May 29, 2013 | 7090 views |  0 comments | 257 257 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Six-year-old Hunter Edwards heads to first base during this year's opening day of baseball for Oxford's "A League of Our Own" youth sports program for special-needs children.  Photo by Eddie Burkhalter
Six-year-old Hunter Edwards heads to first base during this year's opening day of baseball for Oxford's "A League of Our Own" youth sports program for special-needs children. Photo by Eddie Burkhalter
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It’s just a wooded area at the Oxford Sports Complex now, but by the first Saturday in April, city officials hope to see a very special baseball field there.

The Oxford City Council took steps this week toward building a baseball field designed for developmentally and/or physically challenged children.

The field, with rubberized turf and handicapped-accessible concession stands and restrooms, will become the home of a youth sports program in Oxford called “A League of Our Own.”

Ginger Munroe started the league in 2011 after noticing her two young special-needs relatives had little to do in the area. Patterned after The Miracle League program, which has more than 250 organized leagues in four countries, her league couldn’t join the larger program without first having a special field, Munroe said.

Instead, volunteers joined together, started a board and made their own league. Munroe has no plans to join with the larger organization once the field is built, saying things are working well as they are.

The 40 or so kids aged 5-19 played on regular fields since 2011, but Munroe said the new field will be a show of support to parents who often struggle to make sure their special-needs children have what they need.

“These kids and their families need to know that they don’t have to fight for everything,” Munroe said.

It will cost around $391,000 to build, and they’re just beginning to sign corporate sponsors to help pay for it, but the City Council and Mayor Leon Smith are in support of the project.

The council agreed Tuesday to apply for a $50,000 federal grant through the Land and Water Conservation Fund, and if approved, the city will match it equally.

Though the company hasn’t yet decided how much money it will donate, Gayle Macolly, a manager at Eastman — formerly Solutia — said the chemical company is dedicated to helping see the project finished.

“We’ve got a couple of other corporate sponsors,” Munroe said, but she declined to name them until they complete their plans to donate. The group is looking for more corporate sponsors, Munroe said.

With help and support of the city’s Parks and Recreation Department, the group chose a tract of wooded land just west of the parking lot at the sports complex.

Dwayne’s turn at bat

Michael Roberts’ 16-year-old son Dwayne is developmentally challenged and has for many years asked to play organized sports.

Worried over the sometimes overly-competitive atmosphere of youth sports, and a fear his son’s dream would disappear as he watched other kids play while he sat the bench, Roberts just couldn’t pull the trigger and tell Dwayne yes.

“Every year has always been the same thing. ‘Daddy, can I play baseball, basketball? Anything.’,” Roberts said. “It’s heartbreaking.”

Coming home after playing his first game in Oxford, Roberts said his son was “so proud it wasn’t even funny. Had to wear a jersey to school as soon as he got it.”

Roberts said he is excited to learn the special field will be built, and described the league as a program that gives kids like his son a place to belong.

“It’s chance for these kids to actually get to do something,” Roberts said. “I think it’s wonderful that a need has finally been recognized.”

A growing trend

Moody has operated a Miracle League program since 2003, and Hoover’s City Council agreed this month to pay $320,000 for the city’s own special field.

There are also leagues in Cullman, Gardendale, Tuscaloosa, Montgomery, Huntsville, Opelika and Dothan.

Munroe said what will be so special about the new field is that it’s something the parents didn’t have to fight for.

It will be given to them, she said, and they’ll know the community cares.

Staff writer Eddie Burkhalter: 256-235-3563. On Twitter @Burkhalter_Star.

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