With its downtown location and state-of-the-art design, Oriole Park at Camden Yards is sure to create a new, tonier image for the Baltimore Orioles.
But as far as Nancy R. Malone is concerned, that upscale stuff is for the birds.
Ms. Malone is a teacher at Claremont School, a public school for developmentally disabled students on Erdman Avenue in northeast Baltimore. For the past four seasons, a group of Claremont students volunteered to distribute and collect All-Star game ballots at Memorial Stadium.
Now that the Orioles are moving into a new home, they don't want the Claremont kids handing out the ballots anymore. Ushers will handle the chore instead.
"I don't think we fit their new Washington image," Ms. Malone told the city school board last night. She has supervised the students' efforts each year.
Handing out the ballots had earned the Claremont students -- some of whom are mildly retarded or suffer from emotional problems -- free trips to the old stadium for almost 30 games a year. More important, Ms. Malone said, it gave them an opportunity to interact with a wide range of people, which helped build their sense of accomplishment and, ultimately, their self-esteem.
"It was the perfect thing for our kids," she said. "They are hyper and they can't really deal with things like concession stands. This works well for them and they really identify with the players."
The students' work also brought almost $2,000 a year in donations that went to special projects, including a student newspaper and assemblies, at Claremont.
"The All-Star program helps keep us out of the streets of Baltimore City and helps give us an important job to do," wrote Samantha Bennett, who was among the approximately 15 Claremont students who participated in the effort.
Since Ms. Malone first heard rumblings that the Orioles might cut off the Claremont activity, she has been in perpetual motion. She has met with Orioles officials. She has trekked to Arlington, Va., to talk to officials at USA Today, sponsor of the All-Star balloting. She has gone to Annapolis to speak to legislators.
Ms. Malone has asked Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Maryland Disability Law Center and the City Council and school board for help in her fight with the Orioles.
For their part, Oriole officials, who by now are being hit with the first wave of letters from Claremont supporters, say no final decision has been made regarding the students.
"We've changed how we handled the ballots several times over the years," said Julie Wagner, the Orioles' community relations director. "We still want the students involved. But we want it to fit with what they can handle and what is appropriate for them."