Inspiring field to open
Area built specifically for special-needs kids

LAWRENCEVILLE - For years, Michael Leicher has watched his step-brother play ball.

Saturday, he'll get to step up to the plate himself.

"This sport is our national pastime," said Michael, a 19-year-old with Asperger's syndrome. "I like to see people doing their best and playing honestly."

Michael has been practicing for the big game Saturday - opening day at Peachtree Ridge Park for the county's second special-needs field - by playing the Nintendo Wii.

"I've proven to be a better pitcher than a batter," Michael said matter-of-factly.

Michael's step-father, John Brennan, is the director of the park's INSPIRE program, which coordinates games for the physically, mentally and emotionally disabled children of northern Gwinnett.

While the park was under construction, the program held two flag football seasons, and Brennan said he was in awe of the kids, who would make sure their pals got a chance to play and have fun.

"It's really a unique and special atmosphere," Brennan said. "You had all these kids with different ages and disabilities playing together and all of them had fun. These kids are amazingly unselfish."

Michael's face lit up in a smile when he talked about playing football.

"I made lucky touchdowns," he said, demonstrating how he "thundered" across the goal line with the ball just before his friends could reach him. "I always brought them closer to the goal line."

While similar programs have sprung up across the country, Brennan said parents often have to rely on donations to build a field.

"We were really lucky that Gwinnett County built this for us," he said of Peachtree Ridge's padded field. The first special-needs field opened at Bay Creek Park near Grayson four years ago. "This opens it up to kids who have physical limitations."

After an 11:30 a.m. ribbon-cutting and opening ceremonies Saturday, the INSPIRE program will host its first game.

Registration isn't required, and children will divide into teams before the game begins.

The program will have an abbreviated season this year, playing for about a month until school lets out for the summer, Brennan said.

The event Saturday will also celebrate the opening of three baseball/softball fields, two soccer fields, a football field, a playground, basketball courts and a trail at the 155.7-acre park at 3170 Suwanee Creek Road.