Published On: Mon, Aug 6th, 2012

Coleridge grad’s experience helps kids with disabilities

By Deanna Anderson

Coleridge Blade

OMAHA — The fall season for Omaha Miracle League baseball starts in August.

Omaha’s Miracle League Baseball teams and the 1.5 million dollar AllPlay Sports and Recreation Complex, along 68th and Harrison Streets in Omaha, are both the result of a lot of hard work and determination on the part of Bruce Froendt, a ‘79 Coleridge High School graduate.

The AllPlay Miracle Baseball League in Omaha started out with around 40 players in 2009. The team is now up to 160 players and is still growing.

Volunteers and “buddies” who assist the players — some in wheelchairs and others using walkers — in hitting, rounding the bases or playing in the outfield all contribute to the success of the League.

Members of Froendt’s family offer their support at the games and with the league.

His wife, Sheila, and eight-year-old daughter, Alexis, are at the games and help out.

Froendt’s mother Joyce Godberson works in the concession stand. His brother Brett and his sister Brenda help when they can.

Froendt’s father, Tippy, who moved to the Omaha area from Coleridge a few years ago, pitches in with some of the repairs or is a buddy for one of the players.

Tippy has had a first-hand look at how much the games and the AllPlay Complex means to the kids.

“These kids are in their glory,” he said. “The Complex is a beautiful sight.”

Froendt wanted to see kids, whether they are dealing with a disability or not, out playing ball instead of sitting on the sidelines.

Froendt raised the necessary money, got the city’s permission to use part of Seymour Smith Park and guided the creation of the AllPlay Complex, which can be used by wheelchair-bound  individuals.

Froendt, a paraplegic, was injured in a 1984 diving accident and has partial use of his hands.

He was just 23-years-old and had just graduated from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln when the accident happened.

Froendt had grown up in Coleridge playing baseball and other sports.

His love for playing ball and sports did not diminish after his injury.

Froendt won a bronze medal representing the U.S. at the 1988 Paralympics Games in Seoul, has completed numerous marathons and led the Nebraska Barons Wheelchair Softball team to national championships.

Froendt got the idea for the AllPlay Complex after visiting fields in other cities that were specifically designed for those with disabilities.

He wanted a ball field in Omaha where kids and individuals in wheelchairs and walkers could play ball, hear their name announced over the P.A. system and hear the cheers from fans along the sidelines.

In 2005 Froendt made the decision to put together an action plan to construct the AllPlay Complex and began meeting with officials from the city.

Froendt’s dream became a reality in 2008 and the first game took place on the new AllPlay ball field in the spring of 2009.

AllPlay Complex includes two barrier-free ball fields, along with a barrier-free playground and a water park.

The baseball field was built with a rubber coated play surface to soften accidental falls. Different colors of rubber makes the ball field look like it is covered with dirt and grass. The bases and other markings are painted on the field and the pitcher’s “mound” is not raised.

The general public can use the field for youth baseball, soccer, kickball and wiffleball.

The softball field features a hardened asphalt surface which allows wheelchair athletes to compete at maximum speed and performance. Different colors of acrylic paint make the field appear as if is covered with dirt and grass.

The field can also be used for quadraplegic rugby, power chair soccer, wheelchair basketball and football.

Froendt’s inspiration for the playground and waterpark came about when he took his own daughter to a park but had limited access because of his wheelchair.

“I couldn’t play with her. I wanted to but I couldn’t,” Froendt said. “The AllPlay playground is neat. It is a good thing to have.”

The playground is designed with a ramp system that allows children to access all of the features. The rubber surface was manufactured from recycled tires and is over five inches thick.

The water park was built without any steps or curbs. The Splash Pad has different features that spray, drop, shoot, sprinkle and mist water — a great way to cool off in the summer’s heat.

The “no barrier” AllPlay Complex was a first for Omaha and is unique as far as any other park in the country.

Other cities have used some of the same features as AllPlay, but no other city has put all of the things AllPlay offers into a unified park like this one, Froendt said.

The Complex and all of its features are open to the public, although at times the fields and the shaded pavilion may be reserved for specific events such as the AllPlay Miracle Baseball games.

The City of Omaha owns the AllPlay Complex. Froendt serves as the Executive Director of the AllPlay Foundation which is responsible for the operation, maintenance and improvements at the Complex.

“We operate on donations. Funds are needed for supplies, insurance and the cost of fixing it up and keeping it clean,” Froendt said. “Every kid who plays ball gets a uniform. We need funds to purchase uniforms, trophies, treats and other items.”

The AllPlay Miracle Baseball League and Froendt believe “everyone deserves the chance to play baseball.”