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Field of Dreams program growing, parents hope it's here to stay
Flowery Branch High School sophomore Ismael Cordoba, left, 16, gets a high five from senior Memo Rodriguez, 17, after scoring a home run during a dodgeball game at the Field of Dreams in Flowery Branch April 24, 2009. The game was a culmination of Earth Day activity week put together by a Flowery Branch High environmental science class. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

FLOWERY BRANCH -- For years, Paul Irby had to travel to Grayson if he wanted his son Chris to participate in sports.

Then the Hall County Parks and Leisure Services created the "Field of Dreams," and all of a sudden that long drive turned into a short commute.

Connie Heckert was in the same position, only she didn't travel to the outskirts of Gwinnett County to get her son Charles involved in athletics.

"Before this, he did a lot of time in front of the TV," Heckert said of her 13-year-old son who has Down Syndrome. ‘He's definitely more active and social now."

But for these parents, and others of their ilk, concerns are mounting about how long this 2-year-old program will be in existence. Budget issues around the county may force some cutbacks to a program that started with a baseball division and has grown to include activities like bowling, ballet, fencing and basketball, which the kids participated in Tuesday at Mulberry Creek Community Center.

"He looks forward to this," Irby said of his 16-year-old son who has ADHD and a hearing impairment. "This is awesome. I used to drive 45 minutes for the same or less."

And he's not happy about the possibility of having to do that again.

"It would be a terrible shame if they were to cut this program," Irby said. "It's bad to cut programs for the regular kids, but it would be especially bad for the special needs kids who don't have other opportunities."

Heckert echoes that statement.

"I hope that doesn't happen," she said of losing the program. "I hope they find the funding. I hope they realize what a necessity this is for this area."

The possibility of losing the program is all speculation as of now. According to Nikki Young, the county's spokeswoman, "the Field of Dreams program is a part of the Mulberry Creek and Alberta Banks budget, and if the employees get cut, then the program will be." Young also stated that no one within the county knows what positions and programs will be eliminated. Nor does Marci Summer, the facility manager at Mulberry Creek.

"I'm not really sure what's going to happen," she said.

So for now, the parents and children involved in the "Field of Dreams" are taking to the field, court or other recreational avenues provided by the program.

What started out as just a baseball program - thanks to large donations that helped build a special field outside Alberta Banks Park -- has now become a "Field of Dreams League," according to Summer. Special needs children can participate in a bevy of activities now, which is especially important seeing the extreme heat conditions outside.

"A lot of these kids can't be outside because it's too hot," Summer said. "So we try and do social activities to keep them together."

Those efforts are not going unnoticed by the people involved.

"It's an awesome program to get the kids involved who otherwise wouldn't have the opportunity," Heckert said.

"(Charles) just couldn't get into baseball, but basketball is his thing."

The same goes for Chris Irby, whose father said baseball was too slow for him.

"He meets people and talks to people now," Paul Irby said. "It also helps with his hand-eye coordination and other motor skills.

"The stuff we take for granted doesn't come easy for a lot of these kids."

Which is why it would be a travesty for a program like this to go away.

"Normally these kids sit and spectate, but here they actually participate," Irby said. "It would be a shame for it to get cut off once it starts to get rolling."


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