- Associated Press - Thursday, October 27, 2016

ST. GENEVIEVE, Mo. (AP) - Beneath his badge, Major Jason Schott’s heart beats pure gold when it comes to his son.

The Ste. Genevieve County Sheriff’s chief deputy has given his young son, who has autism, a very special gift.

The Daily Star-Journal (https://bit.ly/2eGi0Ps ) reports that opened for play in March 2015, the new Challenger baseball and softball field situated behind the Ste. Genevieve County Community Center was essentially created by Schott so his son Braden and other kids like him can play baseball with their friends.

Challenger baseball and softballs fields are created especially for kids with special needs, giving them the chance to come together as a team and play baseball just like any other kid.

But apparently, a baseball field wasn’t quite enough. Even more recently, Schott had his hands in the creation of the new state-of-the-art universally accessible playground opened at the community center in early September. Dubbed the “Braden and Friends Challenger Playground,” the park was named for Schott’s son (and friends) to honor Schott’s continuing efforts on behalf of children with developmental disabilities.

Seeds for both projects were planted about five years when Schott and his wife Sarah were searching for activities that would benefit Braden and be fun for him at the same time.

“Our son is 12 now, so back around 2011, we were trying to find stuff for him to do,” said Schott. “He’s got autism. And so we tried tot soccer here at the community center . and at first he did good with it until he got underneath the pile of kids and then he was done with it.”

The Schotts then decided to get their son involved with the Challenger baseball program in Perry County.

“We signed him up and decided to see how he’d do,” said Schott. “And we realized how many people from Ste. Gen County were going down there so my wife said something to the lady who started it up in Perry County and asked her to do the same in Ste. Gen.”

Two days later, however, the woman called the Schotts and suggested that they take on the project themselves since they were the ones living in Ste. Genevieve and obviously had a vested interest in the community already.

“So my wife, who’s never shied away from a challenge, she took it on and we started up Challenger baseball here in Ste. Gen County,” he said. “That was about 2011. We went for about a year and we were using the Jaycee field, south of Ste. Genevieve, their ballfield, and they were great to work with but when there were tournaments in town or rainouts, we didn’t have any place to play. The following year when we started up again there were more rainouts. So we played Wiffle ball inside the community center just to have the kids do something because they hated it when they couldn’t play.”

So while a Challenger program now existed in Ste. Genevieve County, parents and kids alike were too often frustrated by not having a field on which to play.

“So I got this wild hair and thought, you know, why don’t we try to find property somewhere where we can build our own field to do it ourselves? So I went to the county commissioner and talked to Garry Nelson.”

Schott inquired about available property or whether there might be funding available to buy some land for a Challenger ballfield in the county. Nelson suggested talking to Brad Arnold, executive director of the community center, who took the idea to the center’s board of directors.

“Actually, a few years prior to us ever thinking about this,” said Schott, “they were talking about putting a baseball field back there and they actually scoped out where the best spot would be.

An area behind the community center, in a far corner of the center’s expansive back lot, turned out to be an ideal spot for the Challenger field for numerous reasons.

“The way the sun rises and sets, it’s never in the batter’s or pitcher’s eyes,” Schott said about why the orientation of the field was laid out as such.

“(Schott) came to our board of directors and myself with a vision for the Challenger ballfield,” Arnold said. “They wanted to build a field, needed a place to put it and felt like, as the community center, creating something like that here made the most sense. We had the space for it, so we went for it.”

After gaining the approval of the community center board, Schott got to work researching the best options for the field, looking at turf samples and field layouts, getting estimates on costs and organizing fundraising events.

“He probably spent the better part of two years fundraising, planning and designing all that for the ballfield,” said Arnold.

“The next thing I know, we’re ready to break ground,” Schott said, with the project coming fully to fruition in March of 2015.

Although Schott provided the impetus for the project and much of the initial legwork and planning, he modestly refuses to take all or even most of the credit for the ballfield.

“I’m just a guy with an idea,” he said. “There’s a lot of other people who made it happen … And going back to the beginning, if it wasn’t for Braden, we wouldn’t be here; and if it wasn’t for Sarah taking on Challenger baseball we definitely wouldn’t be here.”

Helping hands to get the ballfield planned, built and open for play came from people as far away as St. Louis.

“We had a bunch of companies come along - we had companies out of St. Louis - the majority of all of our companies were local that pitched in and helped, but we also had companies from St. Louis that had heard about it by word-of-mouth and wanted to be part of it. If it weren’t for all of them, we wouldn’t be sitting here looking at this field, honestly.

“We’re looking at about a $750,000 complex here and all we had to come up with was $250,000. We took a note out for about $250,000 and everything else was all donated - either the labor, the equipment, financially, everything.”

Schott was likewise generous with his praise for Arnold and the community center’s board of directors.

“Brad does a phenomenal job,” he said. “If it wasn’t for Brad and the other board members having a vision of wanting to do something more with what he have here, we wouldn’t have all the construction going on and wouldn’t have the playground either.”

Talking about all the people who joined forces to create the ballfield and the new playground, Schott becomes reflective and emotion fills his face and his voice.

“It’s about the kids. All these kids, they don’t get the opportunity to do a lot of things. And with Braden, we’re fortunate enough with him - he has autism but he’s not as bad off as some of these other kids - but not being able to get out and interact and just be a kid,” he said, before breaking off and turning modestly away.

Although the field was designed and built primarily for kids playing on Challenger teams, all are welcome to use the field. Challenger players have an organized season in the spring with a reservation of the field on Saturday mornings.

“Around the first of April through the end of June, we go for 10 weeks,” said Schott. “Every Saturday from 9:30 to 10:30, this field will be packed. We’ve got a game going on in the infield while we’ve got a game going on in the outfield. We split the players between ages 6 to 17 and then 18 to - I think our oldest player was 71 this year.”

Challenger players are not the only ones eager to use the modern field.

“This field is always, constantly used,” he said. “The Valle High School softball team plays all their games here; it’s considered their home field. The city leagues play here, Brad uses it for tot soccer for summer day camp and . we’re gonna start Challenger soccer here (very soon).”

In addition to his duties as chief deputy, Schott also serves as chairman of the Ste. Genevieve County Board for the Developmentally Disabled and board member for the Ste. Genevieve County Community Center.

___

Information from: St. Joseph News-Press/St. Joe, Missouri, https://www.newspressnow.com


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