Since its inception, the main focus of Durham Challenger Baseball has been an accessible diamond for children with special needs, and that dream is becoming more of a reality thanks to a massive grant.
The program, which has been operating for three years, gives children of all abilities a chance to get in the game.
Justin Lopes has been playing at Peel Park for Durham Challenger Baseball’s last two seasons. The 13-year-old has epilepsy and has a hard time running the bases but enjoys the game, especially “making new friends and helping kids.”
However, Peel Park’s baseball diamond is not well-suited for children with special needs. Lopes has seen other players get caught up in the gravel.
“It hurts me seeing all the kids get hurt,” said Lopes.
Lori Lopes, Justin’s mom, is also concerned about safety. “Watching the kids with walkers trying to run but being hindered by the gravel, kids with their wheelchairs and kids with their AFOs [ankle-foot orthosis braces] with cerebral palsy, it’s a safety issue that you kind of worry about when you’re watching them,” she said.
Although Peel Park isn’t currently accessible for kids with special needs, the goal is to create a space where children like Justin can play baseball.
When the program first started, it had a dozen players, says Tracy Roulston with Durham Challenger Baseball. Today, the group has more than 70 participants.
“The need’s definitely there. We need this diamond for these kids,” said Roulston.
While Whitby town council still needs to officially approve the accessible diamond, an open portion of the field at Willow Park is expected to become the Durham Challenger Baseball’s field of dreams.
This week, the organization received the funding needed to build an accessible diamond.
“We’re going to have bleachers, we’re going to have covered areas for shade for our players. It will be a rubberized surface, will be crushed limestone in the outfield. It’s going to be over-the-top amazing,” said Roulston.
Canadian Tire Jumpstart is giving a $300,000 grant for the diamond, a third of which was donated by professional baseball player Roberto Alomar’s Foundation 12.
“Jumpstart set out last September to help kids with all abilities have access to sport and play, and one of the things we wanted to do to really enable that was offer grants to community organizations who were building infrastructure that is truly going to be universally acceptable,” said Marco di Buono, associate vice president of Canadian Tire Jumpstart programs and operations.
The new accessible diamond is expected to be completed before the end of next year.
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