Effort to build ballpark for special needs league underway in Walker

Jeremiah and his mom Monique Wilson
Jeremiah and his mom Monique Wilson

WALKER, LA (WAFB) - A program in Walker is giving some children the chance to be part of a team. These are kids who usually are not allowed to play organized sports. People in several other parishes around the area are now trying to get involved their kids in the program. But there's one thing these kids need, to keep up the competition.

The majority of the kids in Ms. Leah Turner's class, at Levi Milton Elementary, are more than just classmates. Many of them are teammates on the City of Walker's Challenger Division; a baseball league for kids with special needs.

"We started with about 13 kids," said Traci Westmoreland. "Ended up with a total of about 22 kids last year, this year we have over 50." Westmoreland started the program. She says after watching these kids cheer on their siblings, they would get onto the field and play. That's when she realized they needed a team also.

"When we came last Thursday, I had a hard time getting him to leave," Vicki White said about her son, 8-year-old Evan. "He cried all the way to the car and went to sleep with his hat and shirt on."

White says her son has low muscle tone. She says he didn't walk until later in life, he wears a brace on his leg and has lifts. His disability also means he has trouble forming words. But she says you'd never know any of that if you see him on the field.

Monique Wilson, another parent, says her son Jeremiah has benefited too.

"He wouldn't talk. Last year, Jeremiah spoke," Wilson said. "He went up to the coach and said 'I want to bat!' He said it three times and everybody was like, Jeremiah's talking!"

Right now, the Challenger Program kids play on a field in the middle of the other Parks and Rec teams. Westmoreland says a lot of parents who are coming to see their children play in other games stop and watch the Challenger children.

The kids have special bats, balls and a buddy to help them run the bases.

Coach Kip Price says the fields they use are made for bigger and faster kids, so they really need a specialized field, one that would include things like special turf and paths for wheelchairs. Price says he can see the children getting better at the game. His son John used to fall on home plate. He's not doing that as much now. And Jeremiah has learned to run from first to second base - he used to run into the outfield.

The other reason the kids need their own special field, the parents say many of the kids run off and sometimes need to be chased. With a smaller field, there's not as much room for them to wander off.

Friday, April 12 at 5:45 p.m., the league will officially kick off their season at the Walker Ball Park. The games are usually every Thursday night at 6 p.m. Mayor Rick Ramsey says there is an effort to raise the $100,000 needed for the specialized field in the next year. He adds any donations or groups who would like to help are welcome.

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