OneField for all abilities


By Dedra Cordle
Staff Writer

Messenger photos by Dedra Cordle
Athletes, coaches, and supporters of TOPSoccer Columbus, an outreach program that is designed to teach children and adults with special needs how to play the game, gathered at the Galloway Sports Complex on April 8 to celebrate the grand opening of a new athletic field that was created specifically with their abilities in mind. According to Prairie Township Administrator James Jewell, the artificial turf at the OneField is composed of ceramic coated sand which will allow individuals who use walkers and wheelchairs to have peace of mind knowing that their equipment will not get stuck in the grass while playing and it also has multiple layers of padding underneath to prevent concussions during the occasional fall while going after the ball. “Our hope is the artificial field will be a place where families and children with all abilities will connect to other families like them and provide a safe environment that eliminates the fear of being different,” he said. “Our expectation is that through the addition of the artificial turf field, central Ohio will become a more open, welcoming, accepting, and inclusive community.”
Dorothy Meadows, a multi-sport athlete from Blacklick, works on her dribbling skills on the in-field. Meadows, 26, has been playing sports since she was 5. She gave the new artificial turf her seal of approval. “It’s really nice,” she said.
Austin McLean, a registered nurse at OhioHealth, plays a quick pick-up game with Colton Showalter (at right). Showalter is an avid fan of the game and is a multi-sport athlete on the Franklin County Special Olympics team.

Dorothy Meadows did not want to let cerebral palsy get in the way of her dream of becoming a star soccer player, but sometimes she could not help but wonder whether the outdoor setting was going to keep her from reaching her potential.

When Dorothy began playing the sport as a child, the athletic fields where the game was played did not look as it does today for individuals with special needs.

“Back then, it was just dirt,” said her mother, Pamela Carter. “If we were lucky, it had boundary lines drawn on it.”

Although her child knew that her wheelchair was bound to get dirty – so much so that the duo from Blacklick would joke that they would have to make a pass through the car wash afterward – Dorothy was willing to be coated with as much sand, silt, and clay as possible in order to play the game that she loved.

Throughout the years, recreation fields started to adapt more to children and adults who need to use walkers and wheelchairs and other mobility tools to safely get around but even those had their own set of drawbacks.

“The grass fields were many steps above the dirt fields that she played on when she was a child,” said Carter, “but she would always have to stay on the sidelines if the conditions on the ground were not right.”

For instance, they had thought that a grass field had properly dried from a previous rain event but soon realized that was not the case when Dorothy’s wheelchair got stuck in the mud. While she may have wanted to push through these conditions in order to play, she soon became exasperated by the poor field conditions that kept her from the game.

“Dorothy does not like to quit at anything but it was a challenge for her to want to stick with soccer when the outdoor fields that they play on kept putting obstacles in her way,” said Carter.

Lisa George said that is a frustration she knows all too well.

For the past decade, George has been the director of TOPSoccer Columbus, a community-based outreach program that teaches children and adults living with mental or physical disabilities how to play the game. She said she can see the mounting stress that crosses their faces when their walkers or wheelchairs get stuck in the mud or when they lose their balance because the ground has lost its level.

“You can literally see all of these struggles impact their joy of playing soccer,” she said. “We want people to enjoy the sport, to feel safe while they are playing it, and not have to worry about whether their walkers are going to stick in the ground or whether the wheels on their wheelchairs are going to lock because the ground is making it impossible to move.”

George said as someone who comes from a family who “eats, lives, and breathes soccer,” allowing these field conditions to sap about the happiness that is found through this sport for people of all abilities was just unacceptable.

“Something had to be done about it,” she said.

Although she did not know it at the time, officials in Prairie Township were sharing her thoughts. When discussions began to build up the land that would later become the Galloway Sports Complex, township leaders wanted to include an athletic field that was specifically designed for athletes with special needs in mind.

“We started this project because we all believe that no one should be sidelined because of a disability,” said James Jewell, township administrator.

In 2016, the township, local business partners and community advocates teamed up with George and TOPSoccer Columbus representatives to begin a massive outreach effort to seek state grants and fundraise to build a “one-of-a-kind” soccer complex on Galloway Road.

Woody Woodward, the executive director of the Ohio Parks and Recreation Association, said although he was heartened by their mission to build a complex like the one they had in mind, he was a tad skeptical that it would actually be accomplished.

“I thought that it sounded great but it might be a little ambitious,” he admitted.

He said he stood corrected during an official ribbon-cutting ceremony to celebrate the grand opening of the OneField at the Galloway Sports Complex on April 8.

“It is amazing what can happen when people come together,” he said.

According to Jewell, the artificial turf on the OneField is made out of ceramic coated sand so it will not stick to walkers and wheelchairs or other mobility devices that they players use. It was also made with additional layers of padding in order to reduce concussions should they lose their balance while pushing the ball down the pitch.

The design of the field will also alleviate flooding concerns as there is a stormwater sewer underneath the field that will push excess water toward the wetland in the adjacent field – a measure that Carter says will keep her child and all others with wheelchairs on the field.

“No more tires getting stuck in the mud,” she said. “We are so excited.”

During the ceremony, Dorothy and her TOPSoccer Columbus teammates were able to learn the layout of the artificial turf – which can be used to hold multiple games simultaneously – before the season officially kicked-off on April 15. She worked on her dribbling skills and she glided across the smooth surface.

She couldn’t help but give a wide grin as she came to the sideline.

“It’s really nice,” she said.

She encouraged others to learn the game so they too can reach their dreams of becoming a soccer star.

Unlike the other athletic fields at the Galloway Sports Complex, permits are needed to access the OneField. Saturday mornings in the spring have been reserved for TOPSoccer Columbus but those wanting to use the field can inquire about availability by visiting Prairie Township’s website at or by calling recreation director Michael Pollack at 614-982-2126.


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