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FUN FOR ALL: County celebrates new million-dollar playground

When Donnie Jones founded Special Needs Sports 13 years ago, he could not have imagined how the seed would blossom.

The league has drawn families from across the region, bringing children who get to do the same thing the most athletic kids do — stand at home plate and swing at the ball, run the bases, revel in the cheers from the crowd. And more. Over the years, Special Needs Sports has added basketball in the winter, end-of-season awards, Valentine’s Day dances and other events — all coordinated by Jones.
“He has dedicated literally his life to making sure that these kids have something special in their life,” Henderson County Commission Chair Rebecca McCall said as she made the surprise announcement on Saturday that the county’s new amenity at Jackson Park has been named the Donnie Jones All-Inclusive Playground.

Jones said Special Needs Sports has taught him that kids are better at working things out than adults.
“The oldest player I’ve got is 66 years old but when they get on the ballfield they’re just kids,” he said.
A crowd of several hundred people — kids and young families mostly — turned out for the ribbon cutting that officially opened the playground.

“Fifty years ago, a Board of Commissioners had a vision. It was to develop this park and if you look out you can see how beautiful this park is,” McCall said of the park, which is named for her grandfather, Clyde Jackson. “I was here last Saturday and I want to estimate there were 10,000 people here at the very least. Every ballfield was occupied. The soccer fields were full. There were kids trying to get on the playground, but we wouldn’t let them on yet.”
The old playground had to be removed because it was unsafe.

Playground2Donnie Jones, founder of Special Needs Sports, ‘has dedicated his life to making sure that these kids have something special in their life,’ County Commission Chair Rebecca McCall said.“A couple of years ago, a group came to the Board of Commissioners with another vision,” McCall said. “This group had a vision for something greater. And the cost was a little bit exorbitant and a little bit scary. But they also took on the challenge to help us raise that money. I’m gonna read from a list of people who were involved in making this what you see, this $973,000, let’s just call it a million dollar playground.”

In addition to Henderson County taxpayers and state and federal grants, the playground was made possible by the Henderson County Tourism Development Authority, the Community Foundation of Henderson County, UNC Health Pardee, U.S. Rep. Chuck Edwards, state Reps. Jennifer Balkcom and Jake Johnson, state Sen. Tim Moffitt and Tommy Laughter, who led a $150,000 fundraising effort at Hendersonville Elks Lodge 1616. Future Farmers of America students from North, East and West Henderson high schools landscaped the playground perimeter.

Other supporters were Terry Brock, Donnie Burnett, Allison Contractors, S&S Fencing, Teddi Segal, Jackson Funeral Home, Steve Katsadouros, the Hendersonville Lions Club, Beau Waddell, Hall Waddell, Les Boyd and Boyd Chevrolet, Dustin Gosnell, Kirby Johnson, GE Current, Hunter Marks and Matt Johnes.
Commissioner Daniel Andreotta said the playground effort proved something he had heard when he first took office.
“I was told at the beginning, if you want to see the community come together and unite, it’ll be around recreation more than anything else,” he said. “And it’s not that I didn’t believe it, but I thought, ‘Well, that’s a little surprising.’And Madam Chair McCall just went through the list of how the community came together, just to build it. And now it will be a tool for the community to come together to enjoy.”
Edwards, who secured a grant for the playground while serving in the state Senate, praised the county for coming together to make the project happen.
“I enjoy telling folks that I love living not only in these great mountains but this specific community that is so philanthropic and so dedicated towards helping improve the lives of the folks that are here and make Henderson County such a better place to, live to work and play,” he said. “The philanthropic nature in this community is just so contagious. … I like telling folks that the giving attitude in this community is so infectious that I have become infected and I appreciate the role that all of you have shown towards making this a better place.”