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MUSCLE SHOALS — Whitney Brink was as excited as anyone to see the city's new adaptive ball field finally open in the same park where she used to play softball as a child.
Because of the efforts of the city, a grant from the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs and generous donors, her son, Noah, will be able to enjoy playing ball in the same park like his mother did.
"It's an opportunity for Noah to get to have the experience like other kids," Brink said. "I'm excited to have this facility available."
Brink and her husband, Jamie, were among the several hundred who gathered at Gattman Park Tuesday as the Muscle Shoals Parks and Recreation Department held a grand opening ceremony at what will be called the Mighty League Baseball Field.
"It's part of our adaptive recreation program adapted to kids and young adults with disabilities," Mayor David Bradford said.
The concept of the adaptive recreation field, a specially designed ball field for special needs children and adults, began in 2011, but the city had been operating an adaptive recreation program since 2003, the mayor said.
Between 2007-11, however, the city built a handicapped accessible playground at Gattman Park, which includes a wheelchair swing and a handicapped accessible splash pad. He said the city was also in the process of building a new gymnasium at Gattman Park that would be used by the adaptive recreation program. The city also purchased a handicapped accessible bus for the program.
"We ran into the problem of how to fund it," Bradford said.
Bradford said he and Northwest Alabama Council of Local Governments Executive Director Keith Jones met with officials of the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs, which helped the city secure a $250,000 Community Enhancement Grant through the Community Development Block Grant program.
Bradford said the project received several major donors and the city itself will likely spend about $250,000 on the project. He read a proclamation from Gov. Kay Ivey before the games.
Brink's mother, Nancy Powell, said when her husband, Jackie Powell, died nearly two years ago, they asked that donations be made to the construction of the field in lieu of flowers. They formed the Jackie Powell Foundation to accept the donations.
"It was a way to honor her dad," Powell said.
She said Jackie Powell had a great connection with now 12-year-old Noah.
Courtney Akins was also excited that her son Eli will have a place to play ball.
Akins said she learned the project was in the works several years ago while the city was still seeking funding.
Whit Martens, his brother, Isaac Martens, and their father, Brandon Martens, said they were involved with a similar program in West Monroe, Louisiana, but the field was a standard dirt and grass baseball field which made pushing kids in wheelchairs a bit difficult.
Whit Martens said he enjoys working with special needs children and likes the way the field came together.
Brandon Martens said his sons want to encourage organizations at their schools to volunteer to help the teams when the league play begins next year. Players often have a "buddy" that assists them during the games.
The ballfield has a rubberized surface that's more suitable for wheelchairs. There is a green surface for grass and brown for the base paths. The facility has lights, a scoreboard, two covered bleacher sections, handicapped accessible dugouts and will be used for league play beginning in 2020.
Four teams, including the city's adaptive program team, participated in Tuesday's exhibition games, Parks and Recreation Department Director Rusty Wheeles said. Muscle Shoals City Schools fielded a team, as did the Arc of the Shoals and Scope 310.
Wheeles said a spring adaptive Mighty League Baseball program will kickoff in the Spring of 2020.
Jennifer Adams, the Muscle Shoals Parks and Recreation Department's adaptive sports coordinator, said there will be games on Tuesdays and Thursdays next year. She said the three inning games will last about 45 minutes.
"We're thankful and happy to have this in the community," her father, Jack Sellers said.
Sellers' other daughter, Allison, participated in the first game Tuesday.
Bradford said it can be used for other sports and activities than baseball.