April 2, known as World Autism Awareness Day, was a perfect day in Fontana for a celebration of a new baseball and softball field for youth with special needs and physical disabilities.
Under bright sunshine, more than 100 people, including actress and philanthropist Holly Robinson Peete, attended the groundbreaking ceremony for a universally accessible Dodgers Dreamfield at Jack Bulik Park.
The $600,000 project, which is expected to be completed in June, is designed to accommodate youth participating in local leagues like the Little League Challengers Division.
In Little League District 71, which includes Fontana, there are already about 185 players in the Challenger Division who compete at Coyote Canyon Park in northwestern Fontana as well as at Heritage Park in Rancho Cucamonga.
Rick Fontana, the District 71 administrator, said that the new field in central Fontana will provide an additional huge boost for the Little League program.
"Having the Challenger Division in this part of the city will help us find a lot more youth who can get involved," said Fontana, as he stood next to Miguel Campos, one of the local players.
Officials said that there are 30,000 children living in the neighborhoods surrounding Jack Bulik Park, and 3,000 of those kids have special needs.
"We're very excited about this project," said Joe Varela, the long-time president of Elks Lodge Little League, which plays games at Jack Bulik Park, located at 16581 Filbert Avenue.
The park first opened with two fields in 1973, and Varela said the completion of the Dodgers Dreamfield will be one of the most significant events in the facility's history, ranking alongside the construction of several additional fields in 2004.
The Dreamfield will have amenities including rubberized surfacing, enlarged dugouts with rooftops, backstops, player benches, bat racks, vinyl coated chain link fencing and gates, bleachers, concrete paving, and an LED solar scoreboard with signage that resembles Dodger Stadium.
Peete, whose son RJ (a Dodgers clubhouse assistant) has autism, said she was honored to be part of the groundbreaking for the Dodgers' 51st Dreamfield.
"Two of my four children played Little League, so I've always loved watching the Challenger games," Peete said.
Money for the field will be provided by the Los Angeles Dodgers Foundation, the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation, and the City of Fontana, with additional funding from Easterseals Southern California, LA84 Foundation, San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, and Security Benefit.