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 Article of Interest - Community Life

County answers recreation challenge
Baseball league is special needs kids' latest opportunity
by Leslie Everton Brice, Journal-Constitution, Thursday, September 26, 2002
For more articles on disabilities and special ed visit

On a recent Saturday morning, Tom Phillips was busy preparing the infield for the inaugural game of the Challenger Baseball League.

Scheduled to coincide with the South Cherokee Recreation Association's regular fall baseball season, the Challenger program targets children who are physically or mentally challenged.

"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 debut.

"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 activities.

"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 exceptional kids.

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.


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