Challenge Grove Park nears completion

Challenge Grove Park, home of Jake’s Place Playground, will be completed with a fully accessible baseball field named Miracle Field for people with physical limitations.

Camden County Freeholder Edward McDonnell, a father of a child with disabilities, led the project. He is also chairman of the board for the past 30 years at the LARC School in Bellmawr.

“It gets away from the old model where the disabled kid plays at that playground, and the brothers and sisters play at a different one. They all play together,” McDonnell said.

According to Freeholder Jeff Nash, the baseball diamond will be fully accessible for physically challenged children and Americans with Disabilities Act compliant.

“It’s a successful concept that allows physically challenged children to play ball,” Nash said.

The baseball diamond has a rubber surface for easy wheelchair access and ADA-compliant dugouts.

The freeholders were able to fund the project through Green Acres. McDonnell reached out to teachers and caretakers of children and adults in need.

“We held a meeting with people who work with special education kids. We wanted to get their input,” McDonnell said. “We wanted to talk about the fact we’re building this field and to say ‘here it is if you want to play.’”

According to McDonnell, he had interaction with Bancroft and schools and teachers who are working with disabled children. He had numerous conversations about the field, asking for input on games and activities they could implement for the kids.

“We want people who work with the disabled kids to decide how they want to use the park, and we’ll facilitate it,” McDonnell said. Nash noted the importance of the park for not just Cherry Hill or Camden County, but any families who wish to visit.

“It’s pretty special because I have a niece and nephew who have autism and it’s a remarkable experience to see them playing there,” Nash said.

The park is designed to be a destination for all types of families. The goal is to be inclusive of everyone, Nash said.

Nash expects the field to be completed in the next few weeks in time for summer, but isn’t sure of the exact timeline.

Though the field is being added to Challenge Grove Park, there is constant room for improvement and ways to include everyone. McDonnell is in the process of looking for basketball nets and hockey nets for wheelchair basketball and hockey.

“Our plan is to adapt that to be used for wheelchair hockey and basketball, and it’s an inexpensive fix,” McDonnell said.

Additionally, the bathrooms will be upgraded to accommodate changing rooms. The area will also receive a snack stand. Both details are in the beginning stages of planning, according to McDonnell.

“We’re seeking project donations to build the snack stand,” Nash said.

No date has been set on the grand opening.

“We envision schools having an annual school day there, playing games and activities,” McDonnell said. “Jake’s Place is packed every day. It’s an absolutely monstrous success, and we’re very happy about it.”

“I give a lot of credit to Freeholder McDonnell. This is something very personal to him and he devoted his life to making sure everyone can play together,” Nash said.