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🎥 Hays Buffaloes and other Special Olympians will 'Play Ball' at Bickle

Apr 26, 2023


Fifteen-year-old Ethan and his fellow athlete Neil got to wield the giant scissors for the Hays Chamber ribbon cutting of their No. 7 home baseball field at the Bickle-Schmidt Sports Complex Wednesday afternoon.

Ethan and Neil are both Special Olympics athletes with the Hays Buffaloes and The Arc Central Plains.

The team has access to fields 5-8 for upcoming large Special Olympics baseball and softball events.

"When the athletes come, they know field 7 is for them, but it still is available for community use," said Sarah Meitner, Arc board president.

Hays Buffaloes and Arc Central Plains signs are mounted on the ballfield fence and the shade structure. Another sign at the northwest parking lot directs visitors to the four-field complex used by the Special Olympians.

An inclusive baseball field had been the plan for the final phase 3 of the ARC Park in the Seven Hills Optimist Park, 3300 Hillcrest, with an escalating price tag of more than $1 million.

Then when the city of Hays decided to install artificial turf at the Bickle-Schmidt Sports Complex, "it came into question whether or not we still needed an accessible ball field if we had this facility out here," Meitner said.

The local Special Olympics athletes were "able to do a little bit of a trial last fall. ... They worked with Hays Rec and [superintendent] Roger [Bixenman] to come out and try it and it worked great."

The artificial turf provides an even and level playing field, something that is important for athletes who have a mobility challenge or utilize a walker or wheelchair.

"This means they'll be able to play softball or t-ball when they previously haven't been able to play because there was too much of a fall risk, or their chair couldn't move in the dirt."

"Even our senior athletes ... are much safer on this [turf] instead of dirt, and we do have a lot of aging athletes," said Kathy McAdoo, Arc executive director.

Some simple adaptations are made when the Special Olympics athletes are using field 7, including two home plates "so that there are no collisions at home plate," Meitner said. "And there's no raised surfaces. We can pull out the bases and put down a flat mat so there's nothing to trip over.

"Nothing has to change, which is even cooler. That is true inclusion," Meitner smiled, "when the adaptations have been made and everybody can play."

Phase 3 for the ARC Park has been modified and fundraising is underway.

A "Lemonade Stand Challenge" will be June 29 and 30, which has raised more than $50,000 for the park over the past three summers.

The park's final phase is now planned to be a multi-recreation area with permanent cornhole lanes, another picnic shelter, open green space, and a Quantis play and climb structure — the first in Kansas — for older kids.

Cornhole, a favorite sport of many people, is a new Special Olympics Kansas sport with regional and state play.

The new recreational space will also include more sensory play equipment including two pulse tennis stations and an interactive sensory mural.

CORRECTION: 8:40 a.m. -- The name of the 15-year-old Hays Buffaloes athlete has been corrected to Ethan.