As director of Anne Arundel County's Special Olympics delegation for the past 12 years, Gregg Meade competes with a host of school teams and athletic groups jockeying for the same practice space.
Soon, county athletes with special needs will have a dedicated recreation space. This week, state officials granted the county $438,000 to build a state-of-the-art rubber-surface track at Lake Waterford Park in Pasadena — a project that caps an overhaul of athletic facilities there for people with special needs.
"I cannot wait for this track to be built," said Meade, who oversees the training of hundreds of Special Olympics athletes in 16 sports. "Facilities have become so scarce. There are so many organizations out there, so it becomes tough to get the time and space for training."
He also foresees improved safety.
"It's going to be a perfect track. The kids can put their wheelchairs on it," Meade said. "It's nice to know you have a place to go to and they're not going to be in an environment where they could hurt themselves."
Construction of the Lake Waterford Park Adaptive Recreation Track begins next spring; officials were unsure when the project would be complete. The lion's share of the project, which includes the 220-yard rubber surface track, was funded though state open-space funds. The rest of the $584,000 project will be funded by the county.
The county completed a nearly $1 million overhaul of the park in 2010, adding a rubberized, all-purpose field, a covered pavilion that serves as an outdoor classroom and dugout, and pathways and parking in adherence with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
"This is a complete circle for us — these athletes will have access to facilities for baseball, softball," said Franklin Chaney, chief of recreation services at the county's Department of Recreation and Parks. "We're very excited. It's important for us to provide facilities for all of our athletes. For our special-needs population, this is the complete package for them."
Lake Waterford is the first park in Anne Arundel and just the third in the state with athletic accommodations designed for disabled athletes, according to county officials.
"The development of a state-of-the art facility for children with special needs has always been one of my top priorities and is a model for adaptive recreation," County Executive John R. Leopold said in a statement. "This addition to the Adaptive Recreation Complex at Lake Waterford will provide additional opportunities for athletes to excel at their sport."
Wendy Scarborough, superintendent of Lake Waterford and the county's recreation supervisor for adaptive and inclusive programs, said special-needs athletes would get first dibs on the new track, though the facilities would be accessible to the able-bodied public.
Among the groups that use the facilities at Lake Waterford are The Challengers, the county-sponsored baseball league for disabled youths; Recreation Deeds for Special Needs, a nonprofit that provides camp scholarships, equipment and support to the disabled; the Handicapped Athletic Program of Anne Arundel County; and the county's Special Olympics program.
The county's recreation department also runs a day camp in the summer for special-needs students that draws about 600 participants, Scarborough said.
"We feel that everyone has the right to recreate and we've made it a real priority," said Scarborough. "By providing this type of opportunity, we're making sure there's something for everyone."