This field of dreams isn't made out of cornstalks and nestled in the Iowan farmlands - it's made of fully synthetic rubber. But make no mistake; this particular diamond will create a lot of magic, all the same.
The YMCA at Pabst Farms in Oconomowoc hopes to break ground on a "Miracle Field" in August 2011, creating a destination baseball experience for families with members possessing cognitive or physical limitations. As part of a larger baseball complex, the field would become the fourth of its kind in the state and serve Waukesha County and beyond.
"I don't know why we didn't think about this years ago considering the programs we have going on," said YMCA executive director Bob Denman, who has watched the Oconomowoc YMCA flourish within its new building since 2003. "It's almost embarrassing when I think about it. We should have had this a long time ago."
The venue, characterized by a flat, rubber playing surface, is completely accessible for participants with disabilities. The field would be built on the acreage behind the YMCA building, and a fourth standard baseball diamond would also be built to accompany renovations to the three already in place.
For Denman and his staff, it's the next natural step in the YMCA's inclusion program, which already serves 180 individuals with special needs.
"We serve people as young as 2 years old and as old as 65," said Kim Schooley, the YMCA inclusion specialist. "We have Special Olympics sports, social opportunities and community integration. The Y is an opportunity for us to be able to erase barriers in recreation, and it's a way for us to offer this great sport to individuals who haven't been able to play it here."
Already, the YMCA offers programs such as basketball and swimming for special needs individuals, but also programs as unique as hunting and fishing trips.
Thanks to assistance from the Oconomowoc Area Foundation and a close partnership with Pabst Farms and a litany of other donors, Denman feels his team can raise the necessary funds to begin the project on time.
"We want to do this debt free," Denman said. "That's our goal and I'm proud of the board and staff to take that position. It allows us to re-invest our resources back into programs and assuring our scholarship offering is strong. We don't turn anyone away."
Pat McNamee, a member of the YMCA board of directors and a past president who now serves as capital campaign chair for the Miracle Field project, felt similarly.
"This is going to be another incredible asset to this community," he said. "It touches so many people. Our goal of $420,000 left is very achievable. We've been blessed by the generosity of this community, and I think we'll get this thing started next year."
Miracle Fields have already been built in Kenosha, LaCrosse and the Fox Cities.
"Long term, we'll be able to host tournaments and provide opportunities where other people can come to us," Schooley said. "We have 25 swimmers on our (special needs) swim team, but we have our Sharks Invitational that pulls in about 225 to 250 people from around the state. We're hoping to make it that destination place for people from other areas."
Denman said he never imagined the Y would be able to support Special Olympic swim meets with the demands of the facility, which also serves as home for the Oconomowoc High School girls swimming and diving team and its own competitive teams.
"When you line all that up over a 12-month period, there's a lot of stuff in that pool area on the competitive side of the arena," Denman said. "We haven't even talked to the veterans groups and disabled vets. Kickball, Wiffle ball, birthday parties … all the things that will come out of this are pretty special."
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