TOMS RIVER – Apparently, the innovator of Toms River’s Field of Dreams literally wants no stone unturned when it comes to the upcoming grand opening of the complex.
Fifteen minutes before Christian Kane expected area students to arrive by bus, Kane was busy raking gravel into a section designated for sponsorship plates.
No task appears too menial for the Toms River high school statistics teacher who says the nightmare that changed his family’s life could happen to anyone. Kane’s son Gavin suffered devastating injuries when he was just a small child involved in a motor vehicle accident.
After realizing there is a lack of activities available for people of all ages with special needs, Kane came up with the Field of Dreams complex. For starters, the designs of the baseball field, miniature golf course, and basketball and bocce ball courts eliminate issues for wheelchair-bound players.
Toms River students with a variety of challenges came to give the facility for a test run a couple of weeks ago. The adaptive playground area was immediately overrun with groups of four taking turns on adult size teeter tooters, while others cascaded down slides, and hopped on swings.
A bunch of guys took up a game of hoops and quickly determined they could use a lever to raise and lower the basketball backboard. Smiles and giggles erupted as some took their first jumps on the trampoline that holds up to 650 pounds and can accommodate a wheelchair.
Kane guided members of the Toms River school district’s administrative team on a tour and pointed out some of the less obvious features of the outdoor facility.
“There’s a public reading area over here,” said Kane. “In between these two concrete slabs, you’ll also find gaming tables for chess, checkers and backgammon.”
Inclusion represents another key feature of the complex. Kane told the school administrators that he expected that student volunteers would be on hand daily from 3 p.m. until 6 p.m. This would give families a chance to see their loved ones enjoy a game with someone else and promote interaction.
The Toms River Field of Dreams has been five years in the making with Kane spearheading efforts to find the money to make it possible. He said he began the process by telling his story and was able to raise $2 million in cash.
“This was done between the naming rights for everything you see,” Kane shared. “There’s obviously the signage, and pavers and grants.”
With the entire cost of the project at $3 million, Kane said he still needed another $200,000-$300,000 to get things done. Previous donations didn’t take into account increases in expenses for things like lumber and even fuel.
As a statistics instructor, Kane teaches students to collect data and analyze it. Kane paused for a second during his presentation and seemingly measured the results of his test run with the students busy at play.
“Hear those sounds?” asked Kane. “That’s what’s we’re looking to hear, and it’s really cool how they’re doing things.”
While some students hit harmonious instruments to make melodious vibrations, the real joy came from deep within them. Non-verbal kids had no problems expressing their delight.
“It sounds like there’s music playing,” said one of the district administrators about the laughter.
Kane also has designated areas for community gardens and said that a lot of organizations have already agreed to come and take care of them. Many work with adults with disabilities who will be able to give the 21+ crowd something to do with purpose.
Students from Toms River East who work with Channel 21 were also on hand to film the first busload of kids to experience the new complex. Once again, the teacher in Kane appeared as he suggested this represented just one example of working together.
“My goal is that we become the number one inclusion district,” Kane said. “Not in the state, but in the whole country.”
Toms River’s Field of Dreams has a special event planned for its grand opening on Saturday, April 30, 2022, from 12 p.m. – 3 p.m. While registration is required during those hours, the complex is open to the public that same day from 3 p.m. until 5 p.m.