"Rewriting the Myths, Redefining the Realities"
Kreck The Gazette
March 21, 2002 When it opened last year, Colorado Springs’ wheelchair softball field was hailed as a breakthrough - the first of its kind in the state and a recreation area exclusive to the city’s disabled population.
But as the concrete pad at Skyview Adult Sports Complex nears its first birthday, city officials concede it has been no field of dreams. Many people don’t know it exists, and no one other than the Springs’ lone wheelchair softball team has used it.
City Councilman Charles Wingate says constructing the field was a mistake and it should be torn up if more users can’t be found.
The city’s parks and recreation department, however, defends the field, saying it is not a failure. Officials say more activity will come with more aggressive marketing.
“It’s been just a little bit mind-boggling that we haven’t had the interest from the handicapped community,” city sports supervisor Nick Lave said. “The big challenge is to find out what are their recreational needs and how we can meet them.”
The field was built specifically for the needs of the Colorado Springs Wildcats, a 15-person softball team that worked with city officials for several years. The Wildcats practiced and played several games on it last year.
The team occasionally encountered skateboarders or in-line skaters but never another organized group, member Dan Spotts said.
City officials always figured the field would pick up more popularity over time. But they did not think it would be this slow to begin with, Lave said.
So, the parks and recreation department is meeting this week with the Paralyzed Veterans of America to discuss bringing Denver wheelchair teams down this spring and summer. And it is looking for a community database of people who could use the field, Lave said.
That sort of research is apparently needed. Nancy Hunt, program coordinator for the Independence Center, which works with disabled Springs residents, said she has never talked to the city about the field - or even heard of it.
Meanwhile, the paralyzed veterans group is talking with organizers of the national wheelchair softball championships about the possibility of the games being played in the Springs in 2003, state association president John McCarthy said. He thinks the chances of landing the event are good since there are few wheelchair-specific facilities in America.
A Denver group also is studying the field as a prototype for a possible outdoor wheelchair sports arena in Denver, said J.J. Klikus, city manager of youth and recreation.
“We’ve really had an impact in the state with what we’ve done here,” Klikus said. “The challenge is having an impact locally.”
The city paid $4.2 million to build the Skyview complex at Powers Boulevard and Zeppelin Road near the airport, which includes six grass-and-dirt softball fields. The money came from bonds being repaid with grants and with fees from adult softball players.
Wingate said the construction of the field appears to have been a “colossal mistake.” Without more use, he suggests tearing the concrete pad up and using the space for another able-bodied softball field.
“I can’t even get the Little League in my (northeast Springs) district to get field time, and we did this for one team?” Wingate said. “I don’t know what led our city staff to believe this would be a good idea other than political correctness.”
City officials are looking at other uses.
Lave is working to bring a 3-on-3 outdoor basketball tournament for able-bodied players here this summer. Because the field is simply a slab whose base lines are taped in, converting it to temporary use for basketball, tennis or other activities is not difficult.
Vice Mayor Lionel Rivera suggested that if more activities for the disabled aren’t scheduled, the city might open the facility to increasingly popular sports such as in-line hockey.
Editor’s Note: Nick Lave was contacted on May 14 to see what had happened regarding the use of the facility. “The field is not in danger of being torn down. It’s a multi-use park but we consider it primarily an ADA facility. We’re still working with the Paralyzed Veterans of America to get more utilization of the facility. The National Wheelchair Softball games will be held here in 2003, said Lave. “I don’t know how many handicapped ADA people are able to use their arms to play softball. But I’m in awe of the PVA people I’ve met and the adventures they go on. We’d like to work more with the handicapped ADA people but I don’t know where they are.” It was suggested that he contact the Independence Center in Colorado Springs, mentioned in the March 21 article. He also was not aware of two other well-known organizations: the headquarters for the Para-Olympics and the School for the Deaf and Blind, both located in Colorado Springs.
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