On Cherry Hill field, more children getting into the game

"Boundless Field" opened Saturday. The handicapped-accessible field will also be used for other sports.
"Boundless Field" opened Saturday. The handicapped-accessible field will also be used for other sports. (CLEM MURRAY / Staff Photographer)
Posted: June 25, 2013

Born with cerebral palsy and using a wheelchair, Robert Florek can't walk and play sports like most other 14-year-olds. But now he can play baseball and circle the bases, all smiles.

That's because Camden County has opened the "Boundless Field" at Challenge Grove Park in Cherry Hill, a baseball diamond with a rubber playing surface that is more accessible to people with disabilities than grass or dirt fields.

"This is awesome. With him being in a wheelchair, we can't push it around on the grass," said Robert's mother, Joan, of Blackwood. "He loves it. It gives him a chance to play sports and do things he's not [otherwise] capable of doing."

Dozens of disabled children and their families came out for the opening day Saturday, which featured a mix of tee ball and slow pitch for members of the Cherry Hill Challenger Baseball league. The field will also be used for soccer, volleyball, basketball, football, and other sports.

The 13,000-square-foot surface cost the county $343,000, which is to be refunded by the Green Acres Program of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, said Ed McDonnell, freeholder deputy director.

"Children in wheelchairs, kids who use walkers, or kids who never would be able to round the bases on a regular baseball diamond will be afforded the opportunity to participate in an organized sporting event like their peers," he said.

The field is adjacent to Jake's Place, a disability-accessible playground built in 2011. It was inspired by 21/2-year-old Jacob Myles Cummings Nasto, who died after his fourth open-heart surgery.

Jake visited playgrounds for physical therapy but had trouble getting around.

"Without play, they're not a real kid, a whole kid," said Jim Cummings, Jake's grandfather, who attended Boundless Field's opening.

Boundless Field will be open to anyone, not exclusively the 12,000 people with disabilities in Camden County, who were its inspiration. In a typical game, every player bats and scores a run once an inning, there are no outs, and both teams win.

The county is also eyeing a nearby basketball court, which McDonnell aims to make handicapped-accessible with adjustable-height baskets by fall.

Cherry Hill residents had been working to make the township more handicapped-friendly even before government got involved.

Steve Silverman started the Challenger League for kids with disabilities eight years ago after the death of his 6-year-old daughter, Isabel, who was born with Moebius syndrome, a rare neuromuscular disorder.

Silverman welcomes young people of all ages, mostly between 5 and 21 years old, about 140 of whom registered this year. The league will play fall ball at Boundless Field.

Jordan Schmidt, 17, started playing in the Challenger league in 2007. On hand for Saturday's opening day, he cheered on teammates who belted home runs and line drives. "This," he said, "is what this is all about."

Contact Andrew Seidman

at 856-779-3846, aseidman@phillynews.com, or follow @AndrewSeidman on Twitter.

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