Judie Holmes, left, visits with Debbie Taylor of Golden Triangle Outdoors after the Columbus Exchange Club meeting Thursday at Lion Hills Center. Taylor spoke to the club about efforts to build a special needs baseball field at Propst Park. Photo by: Deanna Robinson/Dispatch Staff
June 16, 2017 10:25:47 AM
The baseball league Debbie Taylor oversees with her husband Larry doesn't have any rules. There are no strikes. Players can't get out. And everybody gets to score.
The league is part of Golden Triangle Outdoors, a local nonprofit that sponsors baseball games, hunting and fishing trips, movie nights and other events for locals -- particularly local children -- with special needs. And right now, they're in the process of building a Field of Dreams at Propst Park, specifically for baseball players with special needs.
"Many years ago, it was our dream to have a field for these kids to play on," Taylor told the Columbus Exchange Club at Lion Hills on Thursday. "One that had no barriers. One that was theirs to play on, yet was in the middle of their peers."
With funding now from both the city and county governments, along with private donations and grant applications, Taylor said the dream finally is becoming a reality. Golden Triangle Outdoors organizers have been in talks with contractors and construction companies to build the field, and Taylor hopes they will break ground on the project in late summer or early fall.
The organization and the baseball league have personal significance for Taylor because her son Nick was born with dwarfism and scoliosis and was later diagnosed with cerebral palsy and osteoporosis. He was just a toddler when the Taylors moved to Columbus in 1987, but he grew up going to the events the Taylors and other volunteers put on. Nick died at age 27, Taylor said, but she remembers how he loved baseball.
"Nick loved to hit the dirt," she said, showing a picture of her son as a child sliding into home plate. "When we'd come home on Friday night, if he wasn't dirty from head-to-toe, he wasn't happy. He slid in home whether there was anybody in sight."
The organization began in the 2012, but Taylor said the same core group of volunteers had been organizing events for years while tangentially affiliated with other national organizations. It began in the late 1980s and early '90s when the Taylors and other volunteers organized catfish roundups for the special needs students at New Hope schools. Within a few years, they were hosting events for special needs children and adults from all over the Golden Triangle, from cookouts to overnight deer hunting trips, which began to include veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder and other disabilities in 2015.
The baseball league started in 1996 with only 10 players. Since then, it's grown to 45, and it's fielded even more than that in some of the intervening years, Taylor said.
Golden Triangle Outdoors holds the baseball games at 6 p.m. on Fridays from April through June each year. Everyone at the games has a good time, she said, but the experience will be better on a field designed specifically with people with special needs in mind.
The field Taylor wants to build has a rubberized, cushioned surface that's both not too hard if someone falls but also smooth enough for wheelchairs, which have a hard time moving in dirt if it's been raining. There won't be anything for players to trip over or stumble on. The dugouts will be wide enough for players with crutches, walkers or wheelchairs to easily move around, and the bench is centered enough so that players in wheelchairs can sit right in line with the rest of the kids.
Golden Triangle Outdoors has applied for a $100,000 grant from Lion Club International. Meanwhile, both the Columbus City Council and Lowndes County Board of Supervisors have pledged $50,000 per year for the next three years -- or, in the case of the county, until the field is built.
District 1 Supervisor Harry Sanders said the field is an important way to include special needs citizens in the community. Not only is it good exercise, he argued, but it's emotionally healthy because they get out of their homes, socialize and have fun.
"It's entertainment and a social benefit for them ... in that they get to meet people and see people and get out, those kind of things," he said.
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