Ball field project provides activities for disabled people

By By Alicia Williams

By Alicia Williams

Imagine sitting on the sideline without the opportunity to put on a uniform or hit a ball. Imagine always cheering, but never being the one rounding the bases to get to home plate. Imagine wanting to play, but knowing you can’t because you’re disabled.

There is no imagining for Shai Anne Sterzer. The 15-year-old has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair. Year after year she watches her brothers and sister play baseball from the sideline.

“She really enjoys watching. She loves the game, I know she would love to play,” said Destinie Sterzer, Shai Anne’s mother.

The Taylorsville resident didn’t know there was a possibility her daughter could play.

“It never occurred to me that she could participate,” Sterzer said. “She would need to be assisted in almost every aspect of playing a game.”

Shai Anne’s hope is now becoming a reality for disabled children and adults from all across Utah. The only handicapped accessible baseball field in the state is about to be built in West Jordan.

In 2005, two West Jordan Rotary Club couples visited Chicago for the Rotary International convention, which was celebrating its 100-year anniversary. Doug and Janice Schmidt, along with Stuart and Sharon Richardson, were shown a similar field built by the Roselle-Bloomingdale Rotary.

“We couldn’t wait to get home and pitch the idea to our club,” Doug Schmidt said. “We knew they would love to give handicapped kids an opportunity to get in the game.”

The project was undertaken and the task of finding contributors began in early 2006. Fundraising was slow in the beginning. By the end of 2007 they had raised only $67,000 of the approximate $400,000 needed to build the field. When Salt Lake City hosted the Rotary International Convention in June 2007, they were forced to put the project on the back burner.

But this year, enthusiasm for the project re-emerged. Sean Michel of the South West Valley Sunrise Rotary Club spearheaded efforts to collect contributions from local businesses.

“So many have contributed, but the $150,000 donation from SME Steel has earned them the right of putting their name on the field,” Michel said.

The Rotary has now collected more than $460,000 in funds, as well as many other labor and material donations. West Jordan City donated the land to build the field on. The ball field is located behind Gene Fullmer Fitness and Recreation Center in Veterans Memorial Park at 8015 S. 2200 West.

The ball field is owned and operated by West Jordan City, but anyone can use it. Salt Lake County will be responsible for scheduling and will be adding baseball and softball leagues for the 2009 season to its adaptive sports program, which already includes wheelchair basketball and rugby, sledge and power hockey and tennis.

Doug Schmidt, owner of Jordan Cove Construction will be coordinating the building of the 28,000-square-foot field. The project is estimated to take about two months to complete, because the asphalt needs to cure for 30 days before the unique rubberized material can be laid out.

“The existing ball field needs to be graded, all the grass removed, and sprinklers rerouted to the perimeter,” Schmidt said. “Then we need to fill the area with road base and top it off with asphalt.”

The entire ball field will be completely flat and have a a somewhat cushy, textured surface. This will allow disabled players to access every part of the field. The bases will be set directly into the rubber.

The dugouts are another special feature. They will be level with the field and have a wide enough opening for players to get in and out. The sidewalk surrounding the field goes to the parking lot and will be wide enough that wheelchairs can pass each other.

The field also offers an opportunity for individuals to donate time by being a “buddy” to players.

Terri Belliston, a rotary member, said volunteers would provide assistance and encouragement to kids with a wide range of disabilities.

“If they are blind, in a wheelchair or crutches, or just need positive support, their buddy will be with them to help,” Belliston said. “It’s a beautiful sight to watch these kids laughing and having fun. It’s what life is all about.”

The U’s Center for Disability Services reports that about 1,000 disabled students attend the U during any given semester. The field will provide them with a safe, accessible ballpark and an ability to get in the game. The new field and program is a great example of a community coming together to accomplish something great.

Now, for the first time in her life, Shai Anne can spend the summer with her brothers and sister cheering her on.

“This means so much for her,” Destinie Sterzer said. “A little bit of normalcy. No more sitting on the sideline. No more of being left out.”

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Alicia Williams