This article appeared in the August 2018 issue of the Georgia's Cities newspaper.
The city of Acworth’s Horizon Field hosts more than 225 people in its spring baseball program.
Some cities and communities are prioritizing inclusiveness and committing to it beyond just lip service.
Throughout Georgia, several parks and recreational facilities are being built and expanded to include spaces where individuals of various ages and abilities can take part in recreational activities.
Horizon Field is part of the 42-acre Acworth Sports Complex that includes baseball and football fields, practice fields, batting cages and more. However, Horizon Field is designed so that children and adults with cognitive and physical disabilities also have a place to engage in team sports. “Where the sky’s the limit” is Horizon’s slogan.
James Albright, Acworth’s director of parks and recreation, said an exhibition game for special needs children was held in 2007 and the participation of 50 children demonstrated the need for the field. Officials decided to “intentionally develop a program for all ages and abilities.” The $1.2 million field was constructed in 2009.
Today children of all abilities can enjoy Horizon Field in Acworth.
Albright said initially officials were considering building a standalone special needs venue, but were advised by professionals that it was better to have a venue integrated into existing recreational space. Acworth officials also hired a therapeutic recreation coordinator to plan programs and activities.
Horizon Field has a rubber surface and can be utilized by those in wheelchairs and walkers. The facility has become so popular that more than 225 people participate in the spring baseball program. An equal number takes part in the fall program as well as 100 individuals who turn out for the summer kickball activities, according to Albright.
The field is also the go-to venue for special events such as soccer clinics and Covering the Bases, a 24-hour event held by the local police department that nets $25,000-$30,000 for the Special Needs Development Group.
Albright said partnerships with high schools, churches and clubs such as Rotary have resulted in a considerable volunteer force at Horizon Field where many serve as buddies to the special need participants.
“Parents are able to sit in the stands and enjoy the game,” Albright said.
When asked how the facility and programming have been received by Acworth’s 23,000 residents, Albright said, “It’s been nothing but positive.”
A miracle of sorts is taking place in Valdosta—Miracle Field Complex is currently under construction at Freedom Park. The $1.6 million complex will include four standard baseball fields and a two-dimensional rubberized “miracle” field, where people in walkers and wheelchairs can participate in activities without fear of getting hurt, according to one official.
The complex has a wide range of features:
- A $252,000 playground with ramps instead of stairs leading to the top of slides
- Dugouts with bathrooms, showers and a soundproof quiet room
- Pavilion that’s 50 feet by 77 feet and can accommodate 150 people in wheelchairs
“It has really filled a void that has been in this community for a long time,” said Valdosta Councilmember Andy Gibbs. “It’s all geared toward what benefits them,” he said.
The groundbreaking for the complex took place in May and its completion is expected by November or December.
In March 2017 a new playground opened in McDonough that was designed for children with autism and special needs.
The playground is a gift to the city from Our World at Hope Park, a nonprofit that raised $500,000 for the playground and is working on other projects for children with special needs. McDonough provided the land.
The playground has a surface that’s accommodating to wheelchairs, walkers and wagons. It is divided into three age categories and has equipment that children can grab, walk on and climb through. It also contains a roller table that individuals can rub against, giving something similar to a muscle massage—a favorite of some children with sensory issues.
Lori Davis, executive director of Our World Helping Other People Excel (HOPE) Park, said she’s thrilled with what the park and playground have brought to the community.
“We go by and there’s always somebody there unless it’s raining,” said Davis. “The community really loves it.”
She said the facility brings together children who have special needs playing side by side with other children.
“Kids are kids, they want to play, they want to help each other,” said Davis.