When Christian Kane, a math teacher at Toms River High School North, describes the recently opened RWJ Barnabas Health Field of Dreams in Toms River, one expects him to lean into the fact that the $3.6 million complex he spearheaded is “unlike anything else in the country.” But for Kane, it’s an emotional story about a special place for people with special needs, not a comparative statistical claim to put Toms River on the map.
Part of the challenge in comprehending the breadth and depth of the newly opened 3 1/2-half-acre recreational complex is in the name.
It’s much more than a baseball field of dreams. Rather, it’s a field and a basketball court with a surface geared toward people in wheelchairs; a nine-hole miniature golf course with no steps or obstacles; a bocce court; a walking path; a playground with a zip line, swings and a music station; a community garden; and even a game shed where children can spin the wheel and win prizes.
The Field of Dreams was Kane’s effort to literally level the playing field for people like his son, Gavin, who was seriously injured in a car accident at 19 months old, but now, as a fourth grader, loves to play sports.
“When you’re in a special-needs family, it’s hard to go places, not only because of the physical, but because of the financial part,” Kane says. What prompted his dream was his frustration trying to find a place for Gavin to play baseball. “Why am I driving an hour and 15 minutes with Gavin to play in a challenger league when I’m in the mecca of Little League baseball?” he asks.
What started as a desire to create an inclusive baseball field grew, with hundreds of cash donations from individuals and in-kind donations such as land from the township, engineering from Colliers Engineering and all the asphalt and subbase from the Hesse Companies. Everything is thoughtfully designed, from paths that are double wide to fit two power chairs at the same time to a fitness station where faculty and students from nearby hospitals can bring people to help them recover from chemotherapy or knee and hip replacements.
The complex is almost exclusively reserved for people with special needs, and is available to both young and old. It serves those who are physically disabled, autistic, blind, non-speaking, and even people who are recovering from serious surgery. “Whatever you want to label your special needs as, we’ve got something for you,” he says.
“It’s really not children who have a problem understanding special needs; it’s the parents,” he says. “They’re the ones who don’t know what to do or what to say. We’re trying to teach about what inclusion is and what a special need is and how you deal with it. And how you can be a part of it. And not just think, Oh don’t touch him, don’t look at him.”
Members of the complex get a key fob to enter; membership is free to anyone with special needs. To join, register here.
The complex is open from 8 am-8 pm seven days a week; visit the website for general-public hours.
As Kane says, he is trying to make “sure that everyone has something to do, something to participate in.”Click here to leave a comment