County answers recreation challenge
Baseball league is special needs kids' latest opportunity
by Leslie Everton Brice,
September 26, 2002
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On a recent Saturday morning, Tom Phillips was busy preparing
the infield for the inaugural game of the Challenger Baseball
Scheduled to coincide with the South Cherokee Recreation
Association's regular fall baseball season, the Challenger
program targets children who are physically or mentally
"Anybody who shows up can play, and it's always free," said
Phillips, who organized the program. "If you can't be
mainstreamed into another program, you qualify. We want kids
to come here and feel like they're part of something."
Each player has a volunteer "buddy" on the field to help and
encourage --- but parents are relegated to the bleachers.
"The kids are on the field and the parents are in the stands,"
said Phillips. "They can sit and watch their kids have fun."
Mike Taylor said his son Matthew, 7, couldn't wait for his
"Baseball was all he could talk about this morning," Taylor
said. "We'll be out here every week."
Challenger Baseball is the newest recreational opportunity ---
and one of several --- available to Cherokee's special needs
kids. But that wasn't always the case. As recently as three
years ago, special needs kids had to travel to Cobb or north
Fulton counties for many kinds of sports or recreational
"Year after year we'd have parents asking about [recreational
opportunities]," said Julie Bell, who teaches at Mountainbrook
School, a psycho-educational center in Waleska. "We were
getting so frustrated. I had families say they'd approached
CRPA [Cherokee Recreation and Parks Authority], but they
didn't accept kids with disabilities."
In February 2000, the Recreational Opportunities Task Force
was formed to search out opportunities for Cherokee's
Neely Hand, recreational supervisor at CRPA, is one of the
founding members of the task force and is behind CRPA's
current effort at establishing a therapeutic recreational
program for challenged kids.
"When [CRPA] was a county department, there were therapeutic
programs," Hand said. "But when we became an 'authority' [in
1995] the programs were cut because of low registration. Now,
we're trying to build registration and get a program going."
Currently CRPA is offering "Hopeful Hoops," a basketball
program for special needs children. Arts and crafts classes
and a costume ball are scheduled for the near future. And a
new program called Exceptional Explorers --- providing monthly
field trips for teens --- will be introduced in January.
Terrie Griggs, a first-degree black belt who teaches special
needs kids at ATA Karate Family Center in Woodstock, said
she's been amazed and gratified to see the development of the
exceptional children in her classes --- starting with her
7-year-old son, who has been diagnosed with ADHD and autism.
"Back when my son first started, if he'd stay in a class for
50 seconds, we considered it a success," Griggs said.
"Now, he not only stays the whole class, he actually helps out
with the class."
Griggs said parents are delighted to see how their children
blossom in the martial arts.
"It's so rewarding to see these kids --- and the parents are
tickled to death," she said. "The kids go to tournaments with
their peers, they get uniforms and get to feel a part of
everything. They all come back with
trophies, and it makes them feel really good about themselves.
. . . All kids are gifted, you just have to find out what
their gift is."
For more information on recreational opportunities for
mentally and physically challenged children, to be put on the
mailing list for the Recreational Opportunities Task Force
newsletter, or to volunteer, contact Bell at 770-704-9761.