With a small building swinging to the ground from a crane, 11 years of dreaming and working was finally complete for the Monroe Rotary Club.
What began as an idea formed by a Rotarian perusing a magazine, and which grew to become a $1.5 million baseball field for disabled children, was finally complete with the installation Aug. 7 of wheelchair-accessible bathrooms.
“We came up with this hare-brained idea in 2002,” said Collette Reams, who worked on the project from the start. “It all came from [Rotarian] Ric Carlson having coffee and reading Rotary Magazine about a field like this, and saying, ‘We could do that.’”
It was a long stretch from saying to doing.
To build such a field would take at least $1 million. The entire annual budget of the Rotary Club was less than $30,000. There were only about 25 members. Raising that kind of money would be tough. But they got started.
They also got started having baseball for special needs kids right away.
The Rotary Club organized a baseball league called Miracle League for disabled kids and started playing at Lake Tye in 2002.
Volunteers helped kids every step of the way, swinging the bat and pushing wheelchairs around the bases, but conditions were far from ideal.
“The first games we played were on dirt, and some kids, they wanted to get down out of their chairs, and they’d get dirty,” said Sue Skillen, who was a lead organizer of the league. “One girl said, ‘Don’t tell Ric, but I’m going to get a grand slam.’ The girl, who had no legs and only one arm, requested that her volunteer take her wheelchair over to her mother.
“She popped out onto her trunk and she pulled herself around the bases with her one fist,” said Skillen.
That girl has since gone on to the Special Olympics, where she is competing in swimming.
The Rotary Club worked hard to raise money, and it came in a piece at a time.
One child had a penny drive.
“One girl gave us a jar of coins she was saving for Disneyland,” said Reams.
But in six years, the club had only raised a quarter of what was required.
Then the state stepped in with a $750,000 grant, and the field was built in 2009.
It is a handsome field, with special turf cushioned by grains of recycled soles of Nike shoes. The field is entirely flat, the baselines marked by colored turf. The dugouts are level with the field, and wide enough to allow wheelchairs to enter. The entire field is laid over a system of drainage ditches so that the field is always dry.
But one thing was missing; the field had only portable toilets.
“We accommodated their recreational needs, but we got schooled in their biological needs,” said Reams. “The parents didn’t complain, but it was that one thing that was missing to have a complete experience.”
The Rotary Club kept raising money.
Then, in April, the city of Monroe funded the final $127,000 that was needed to install the restrooms.
Ric Carlson, who had overseen much of the field’s construction, had already made sure the necessary plumbing was in place.
All the club had to do was find a manufacturer.
Aug. 7, a company that builds prefabricated structures delivered the restrooms, swinging them into place with a crane.
Thursday, Reams and Skillen opened the doors to the restrooms for the first time and peeked inside.
The smell of fresh paint was pungent as the two exclaimed over the hand rails, wide doors and push button door control.
When they sat back down on the bleachers and looked out over the field, it was with a sense of accomplishment.
“We’re done,” said Reams. “We are the little club that could.”