Organizers close to dream of accessible baseball field in Antigonish
'We want to make sure that no one is excluded from wanting to play'
When Wade Chisholm started looking for a sports program for his son who uses a wheelchair four years ago, he didn't see many options in his town.
Then he noticed a new Challenger Baseball program, a national adaptive program for children and youth with disabilities in Antigonish, N.S.
His son Cullan Chisholm, 8, has been playing ever since.
"When he gets to the field, he's all smiles," said Chisholm, who also coaches for Challenger Baseball. "I played a lot of ball growing up, so it gives me the opportunity to play ball with him. It's just wicked."
$110K left to raise
When the program started there were just five kids involved.
Now with 35 players, the program can't grow much further without a new field, said Randy Crouse, who co-ordinates Challenger Baseball.
Crouse, along with the town's minor softball and baseball teams, has been making plans to build an accessible baseball field. So far, they have raised $330,000 of their $440,000 goal. Similar barrier-free baseball fields have been built in Moncton, Ottawa and Vancouver.
"It kinda just started off as a wish list or a dream," he said.
Crouse said improved accessibility is needed not only for the players, but for coaches and families too.
"We want to try to make it so that no matter their ability or circumstances they'll be able to play, volunteer, or come watch the kids play. That was our goal."
The Toronto Blue Jays' Jays Care Foundation gave the group $150,000 as part of their Field of Dreams program. The Town of Antigonish followed suit with a $50,000 contribution and the Municipality of the County of Antigonish recently kicked in $50,000 as well.
Members of the community have raised nearly $80,000, with barbecues, auctions and other events, said Crouse.
If they reach their goal, the organizers plan to start building this fall and be ready for the spring season.
Chisholm said it's sometimes difficult to push Cullan's chair on the soccer field where they currently play on Braemore Avenue.
If it has recently rained, Challenger Baseball is cancelled because the ground is too wet for wheelchairs and walkers.
The plan for the new field includes a turf infield, drainage, a backstop, wheelchair accessible dugouts and stands.
"Everyone's really excited for this project and we can't wait to start playing," said Chisholm.
With a new field, Crouse hopes he'll also be able to expand the baseball program to adults.
"We're hoping to get this thing done and hopefully it's a place where people can come, enjoy and to have a good time at."
Crouse aims to raise the rest of the funds with sponsorships, naming rights and grants.