Field Of Dreams Hosts First Unified Kickball Clash

A Toms River High School North player pitches the kickball. (Photo by Stephanie Faughnan)

  TOMS RIVER – The RWJBarnabas Health Field of Dreams complex set the stage for yet another remarkable first this season. The inaugural kickball game between the Unified Sports teams from Toms River High School East and High School North unfolded in a spirited showdown of fun.

  This wasn’t your typical high school rivalry; it was an epic clash of school spirit where inclusion was the true champion.

  Unified Sports, a groundbreaking initiative by the Special Olympics, first began in the Toms River School District in 2023. The games rewrite the rules, bringing together students receiving special services and their peers in a fully inclusive environment. Student mentors and staff guide the teams as other students take on different roles.

Athletes took to the field to compete in the first ever Unified Kickball Clash. (Photo by Stephanie Faughnan)

  Both the Raiders and the Mariners came with cheerleaders and bands to add an extra spark to the competition. The excitement was palpable as players danced to the music, releasing their inhibitions and embracing the joy of the moment.

  “There’s never been a unified kickball game between high schools like this,” said Christian Kane, co-founder of RWJBarnabas Health Field of Dreams. “If you had your eyes closed and heard everything, you’d think you were at a Toms River North or Toms River East football or basketball game.”

  But this game was something special. Players from High School North were in orange, while those from High School East donned grey. Instead of displaying their surnames on the backs of their shirts, neurotypical students sported lettering designating them as coaches.

  The student coaches seemed as elated as their buddy players as they cheered them on – and ran alongside them to run the bases. A professional-sounding announcer introduced each player as they stepped up to kick, praising their efforts and adding to the celebratory atmosphere.

  Steve Geiger, the Director of Hawks Athletics for Football and Cheer, served as the game’s referee. His focus was on ensuring everyone had fun, with his calls for safes and outs aimed more at encouraging young athletes than any real rule enforcement.

  Geiger has been around for all the games at the complex – and readily admits he loves seeing the interaction between players of all levels.

  As he does at all sporting events held at the complex, Christian shared the story that led to him and his wife, Mary, founding the Field of Dreams. They will never forget July 12, 2012, as the day that changed their family’s lives.

Toms River High School East players enjoy the band before the game begins. (Photo by Stephanie Faughnan)

  On that day, Christian was involved in a serious car accident near Toms River North High School, resulting in their 13-month-old son Gavin suffering a traumatic brain injury. Gavin, now 12, inspired the creation of this inclusive recreational space.

  Miraculously, the Kanes turned that tragic event into a “field of dreams,” helping others play side by side in an inclusive environment. They realized that people with special needs lacked adequate recreational services, especially those they could enjoy with others.

Coaches helped the players round the bases. (Photo by Stephanie Faughnan)

  “I like the phrase ‘special,’” Kane told the kickball participants. “Because we’re all special, and I want you all to know that.”

  Kane also acknowledged the neurotypical participants for their involvement, noting their inclusive attitudes. The Field of Dreams offers something for everyone, not just youngsters. In addition to a baseball field, basketball court, and miniature golf course accessible to wheelchairs, the playground equipment is designed for people with special needs to use without issues.

A Toms River High School North player exchanges a high five with the school mascot. (Photo by Stephanie Faughnan)

  Activities at the complex go beyond imagination, with quiet areas set up to avoid stimulation and the opportunity to participate in many events.   Membership is free and available to special needs families only. More information about the complex located at 1511 North Bay Avenue, can be found at

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Stephanie A. Faughnan is an award-winning journalist associated with Micromedia Publications/Jersey Shore Online and the director of Writefully Inspired. Recognized with two Excellence in Journalism awards by the New Jersey Society of Professional Journalists, Stephanie's passion lies in using the power of words to effect positive change. Her achievements include a first-place award in the Best News Series Print category for the impactful piece, "The Plight Of Residents Displaced By Government Land Purchase," and a second-place honor for the Best Arts and Entertainment Coverage category, specifically for "Albert Music Hall Delivers Exciting Line-Up For 25th Anniversary Show." Stephanie can be contacted by email at