2017-05-17 / Education

Student’s project will give Special Olympics athletes a home field advantage

BY ANNE SEEBALDT
STAFF WRITER

Rebuild it and they will come.Long is pictured in front of one of the two dugouts, which will be covered to protect players from the elements, as well as foul balls. Other work needed to complete the project includes installing a sidewalk that goes right up to the field, and grading.Long is pictured in front of one of the two dugouts, which will be covered to protect players from the elements, as well as foul balls. Other work needed to complete the project includes installing a sidewalk that goes right up to the field, and grading.

Nicole Long, a 16-year-old junior at Lakeland High School and varsity softball player, said revamping a current ball field into one that is accessible for local Special Olympics ball players was a natural fit for her Girl Scouts of the USA Gold Award project.

“Community fields exist,” Long acknowledged, “but they’re not always in the best shape and not always very accessible.”

Long knew a handicap-accessible field was needed because “I’ve worked with Special Olympics before, and to see the joy that kids have playing, I knew this was something that had to be done.”

This is not a small project, so it’s taken some time to accomplish.

Last October, she presented her proposal to the Huron Valley Schools Board of Education. As a result of that presentation – and a lot of paperwork – it will be constructed at White Lake Middle School. Board members granted their approval in November.

“Before that, I put in about a year’s work” talking to people and doing the necessary paperwork for the Girl Scouts, she added. “There is a long process to get your Gold Award project.”

Long had to prove that her project was both everlasting and sustainable to the satisfaction of the Girl Scouts. That’s been accomplished, and Huron Valley Schools will handle future maintenance of the field.

Part of the plan includes building a sidewalk. Also, both dugouts will be completely covered. Then, she said, “We just need to give the field itself a lift.” It will be re-graded and the weeds taken care of, etc.

She’s done a lot of work, but Long faces one more hurdle: fundraising to make her dream project a reality.

“The work starts when I get the money,” she said. “Ideally, I’d like it to start this summer, but the latest it could start is next fall, according to deadlines set by the Girl Scouts. I have to have it done before snow in 2018.”

It was a real challenge to set everything up to get to this point. “This is probably one of the most trying tasks in my young life so far. It’s been a great learning experience!” enthused Long.

She credits her parents, Tina and Jeff, her Girl Scout advisors, LHS Leadership teacher and Activities Director Scott Rolando, and Shannon Loso, Director of Recreation and Community Education for Huron Valley Schools, with help at key times throughout the project thus far.

“They kept pushing me even on days when I had a lot of school work or softball,” Long added. “It’s been something I’ve always been determined to finish, but without them, it wouldn’t even be possible.”

“Her mother and I are both very proud of her,” said Jeff Long. “As the board president, I would say it would be a great benefit to our Special Olympics athletes to have their own home field.”

Long has set up a GoFundMe page (www.gofundme.com/ HVS-SpecialOlympics-Softball) for those who want to donate to her project.

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