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Camp, Hall of Famer team up for kids with special needs
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Christie Myers, left, congratulates Taylor Vogel for scoring a run Monday during a baseball game at the Field of Dreams as part of the Elsie Conde Memorial Special Needs Camp. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

Evan Siver rounds first base, stomps on second, storms past third and zooms toward home plate as dozens of peers cheer him on.

He scores a home run, and for a glorious minute everyone forgets he has autism. Former Atlanta Braves pitcher and Major League Baseball Hall of Famer Phil Niekro, who threw the ball, cheers him on.

Siver joins 15 other students this week at Alberta Bank Parks’ Field of Dreams for the Elsie Conde Memorial Special Needs Camp. The camp is the first annual special needs event run by Cross Training Sports Camps.

"This place, 10 years in the making, was built for y’all," said Niekro, one of the original contributors of the project. "Come out, compete, exercise and have a good time. It’s a beautiful day."

Niekro gave an autographed baseball to each child before pitching a few on the field.

"Play ball! Play ball," Niekro said on the field. "All your buddies, the volunteers, make this happen. It doesn’t work without them, no matter how big or small a field."

The students show up each morning this week, meet with "buddies," volunteers who help them throughout the week, and try out different sports.

"These kids crave to be around other people and play typical sports," said Robin Bryant, mother of Joe, who uses a wheelchair. "They don’t get to go to camp, and special needs facilities are such a financial burden for parents."

Cross Training is a mission group that has traveled to Honduras, Montana and Oklahoma to teach sports and Christianity. For this camp, the volunteers teach the students a song about Jesus and pray at the beginning of each day.

"It’s just a great way to play with kids and love on them," said Carly Dale, a Chestatee High School student who has participated in several mission events. The campers, most of whom who have autism, cerebral palsy, seizures or are developmentally delayed, ran around the field, laughing, taking pictures together and giving high fives.

The field opened in November with a youth baseball field designed for people with disabilities. Hall County Parks and Leisure Services closed the $1.4 million field in May due to vandalism, but students and parents alike are happy that it’s open for business.

"A kid hit a home run while his friends cheered — how much more perfect can you get?" Bryant said.

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