His parents felt the call to make it happen for their son and so many other people within their community. What initially started as a plan for a wheelchair-accessible baseball field quickly morphed into an inclusive sports complex made for children, teens, and adults with disabilities.
The idea for Toms River Field of Dreams (TRFOD) started when a New Jersey family realized there wasn’t a place for their son and other children with disabilities to play baseball in their community.
As they began fundraising, it also become clear that there was no playground that adequately served all children and families either. This struck a chord with Christian Kane and his wife, Mary, because of their son Gavin — the inspiration for this project.
Before Gavin was 2 years old, he was involved in a car accident and suffered a traumatic brain injury. Now 11, Gavin’s condition continues to improve, and his parents still want him to have the same opportunities as “typical” kids, Christian said.
“We had a playground that we built that was capable for [Gavin] to be able to interact and play with others,” Christian said. “And after [a birthday] party, the kids didn’t want to leave because they were having so much fun, but so was Gavin. They were having so much fun together. Mary and I were looking at each other like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is what we should be doing.’”
The idea started as a wheelchair-accessible baseball field and then evolved into a sports complex after conversations started with MRC. The site location was settled on three acres of land at Bey Lea Park in Toms River, and the Kanes began raising money. “We kept asking people what would make them happy in life, in regard to being included and being able to play. And that’s basically what you see now. You see this multi-faceted complex,” said Christian.
“Our office headquarters is only 20 minutes from the complex, so we were able to have a very hands-on approach throughout the design process as well as the installation,” said MRC Marketing Director Matthew Miller.
“Christian and Mary were very honest with us regarding the inclusive playgrounds they had visited in the past,” Miller said. “While accessible, not many of them offered the equal play value that they were looking for. Their vision closely aligned with what we look to do every day as park designers.”
After countless discussions and design meetings, MRC and the Kanes came up with the perfect outer space-themed sports complex.
“When you really do go see it in person, words aren’t able to explain it. Pictures aren’t even able to explain it. When you get there, you’re like ‘Wow. This is pretty impressive.'"
The playground’s design all began with a core feature: A specially designed glass fiber-reinforced concrete (GFRC) mound, made to look like a moon. It has two accessible travel routes to get to the top. Once you’re at the top, there is an accessible circular trampoline that allows even mobility devices to bounce around —hence, the name Moon Bounce. “That basically came from Mary saying [Gavin] loves the trampoline. The structure of it allows for [Gavin] to jump around with his friends,” said Christian.
Additionally, the playground features eight types of swings for all ability levels, including an Expression Swing, bucket swing, special needs swing, bench swing, and more. Musical instrument components, inclusive play panels, and an inclusive zip track are also available.
Finally, the Yalp Sona Dance Arch is at the center of the playground. It’s an interactive and inclusive component that has several games integrated to target a multigenerational audience. Everything is built on poured-in-place rubber, a supremely safe playground surfacing option that allows for easy travel using a mobility device.
Aside from the playground, MRC also worked on the synthetic turf baseball field, outdoor fitness equipment, several shade structures and trellises, a snack shack, accessible bathroom facilities and changing areas, entrance archways and much more.
The best part is that people with disabilities and their loved ones can enjoy this playground and sports complex in a multitude of ways.
“I was just trying to create a baseball field so that my son could play,” Christian said. “It was my wife, Mary, who said, ‘We’ve really got to do it right the first time. Gavin isn’t always going to be 7 or 8, he’s going to be 60 or 70 and still need a place to go.’”
Toms River Field of Dreams opened in April 2022 after 30+ weeks of construction. But even before that, people were eager to get in. This became a teaching moment for the Kanes — redefining inclusion and educating the public on what it is and why it’s important. Christian said it’s more than adding one accessible swing to your playground.
“It’s redefining the word inclusion. Teaching the word inclusion, and then, instead of putting it to words, really putting it into action,” Christian said.
When the gates opened on day one, both Christian and Matt Miller felt overwhelmed by the response. Their hope is that other municipalities will see what Field of Dreams has achieved and want to replicate it in some capacity in their parks.
“Since we opened, I think I’ve gotten about 14 emails and made 10 calls already to people throughout the country saying, ‘Can I get help? This is where we’re at, we have the property,’ or ‘How do we start to get property?’” Christian said. “It’s like anything. You just try to add on to someone who has already created something. That’s where new ideas come from.”
Adding inclusive components to your parks or playgrounds doesn’t have to be full-scale or cost millions of dollars. Starting small with pieces that don’t take up much space can still have a huge impact.
“There was a 13-year-old girl there who had never swung before on a swing,” Miller said. “Those things blow your mind and educate you on inclusion. If you never deal with this, you don’t even realize that it’s a life issue people have. You don’t second guess it.”
“Listen, we went big. Hate to use a cliché, but we [swung for] a home run. We did it because we knew if we could build one of these, people could take bits and pieces from it. You can take our complex and make it smaller and still have the same effects.”
As seen from the specific park features mentioned above, this playground and sports park combined a wide range of equipment, materials and tools needed to bring together what you see today. Once the project was completed, we took a look at Toms River Field of Dreams and in it contains
Some other special things included in this one-of-a-kind park are:
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