August 15, 2002

As part of my Director's Message delivered in January, 2001, I included a proposal that Middlesex County develop a completely barrier-free athletic complex, which will allow physically-challenged residents to participate, with assistance if necessary, in organized team sports. Presently, our County Parks System offers many recreational and athletic opportunities. We have 18 parks and 3 golf courses available on over 7,000 acres of land. These parks include numerous baseball, softball and soccer fields, as well as tennis and basketball courts. The County also offers cultural and historic attractions such as East Jersey Olde Towne, the Cornelius Low House Museum and the very popular Plays-in-the-Park series.

While our parks and attractions are accessible for the physically challenged and parking for the physically-challenged is provided, other than one specially designed playground at Roosevelt Park, there are no recreational facilities specifically designed for use by the physically-challenged. Several of our municipalities offer athletic programs where the physically-challenged are partnered with helper athletes to play baseball or soccer, but nowhere in this County or in New Jersey, or, as far as we know, in the United States, is there a complex specifically designed to be 100% barrier-free to encourage the physically-challenged to participate in sports such as flag football, soccer, baseball and basketball.

We must remember that accessible and user-friendly are not the same. The fields, for which we break ground today, are more than just accessible, they are specifically designed to be used safely by those with severe disabilities to play team sports. This unique 5-acre complex, and the idea that our physically challenged youngsters will no longer be limited to the role of "spectator" at team sports, has been my dream for the last two years. I am proud and happy that we are here today to officially begin construction of this complex known as The Level Playing Fields and to begin to turn that dream into a reality.

The athletic fields to be built here will be fully covered with cushioned synthetic material. The team benches will be protected from direct sunlight. Paths will connect the ample parking for the physically challenged in the parking lots with all of the facilities in the complex. The restroom facilities, which are designed to be barrier-free, are specially designed to allow family members to provide assistance when necessary.

In Middlesex County every child should share the excitement of playing team sports and every parent should enjoy the thrill of watching them play.

Physically challenged children aren't the only ones who will benefit from completion of the Level Playing Fields. This facility will offer a suitable home for the "Buddy Ball" type programs already existing in Woodbridge and other municipalities in our County. Further, able-bodied athletes, who provide assistance to the players with special needs, will, as they provide their partners with assistance, encouragement and friendship, enjoy the feeling of warmth and satisfaction that only helping others can bring. While our special athletes experience the fun of team sports and the satisfaction of overcoming boundaries, so will their important buddies.

In the movie, Field of Dreams, the line "If you build it, they will come" is often used. In Middlesex County our physically challenged population is here and is ready, willing, and able to make use of this facility. They are simply waiting for us to "build it".

This athletic complex will be a wonderful addition to the extensive recreational opportunities already offered by Middlesex County to its residents. Later this year, when the Family Ice Skating Rink, which adjoins the Level Playing Fields, is completed, it will complement the Level Playing Fields by providing, during non-skating seasons, a barrier-free location for band concerts and other family activities.

The members of the Middlesex County Board of Chosen Freeholders, which have approved the design and provided capital funding for The Level Playing Fields, should be commended for helping to make this historic and unique athletic complex a reality. We should also commend and thank Middlesex County Surrogate Kevin Hoagland, Councilman Robert Recine of New Brunswick, Kathy Goundry, Darlene Hoagland, Edna Gordon and Dennis Kahn, Esq., who unselfishly gave of their time as members of the Advisory Committee which developed the design for this special complex. Thanks to their efforts and the guidance provided by Dominic Ursino of the Cerebral Palsy Association, this facility incorporates several unique features to make it especially suited for use by those with special needs.

With today's first shovels of dirt, let the construction of the Level Playing Fields, the "field of dreams" of so many physically-challenged Middlesex County residents, begin. This athletic complex, which should be completed by the Fall, and of which we can all be proud, will be just one more reason why Middlesex County is and will always be the "greatest County in the land."