A volunteering story by: Jeremy Tecktiel
My cousin is a big baseball fan and always has been. When he was in high school, he started volunteering for a program called Buddy Baseball. Buddy Baseball allows kids with mental disabilities to have the same joyful experience of playing baseball as everyone else. Each player is paired with a buddy. The buddy helps them swing, field, and run. Each player has different abilities and inabilities so the buddy has to make sure to ask the coach which things the player will need help with and which things the buddy can let the player do on their own. There are two coaches per team that are in charge of monitoring the players. They have to know the issues the players deal with and monitor the buddies to make sure they are allowing the players to have fun. The buddies change each game, so it is important to pair the buddies and players up and make a good match. As tough as it can be, sometimes a coach needs to take over for a buddy or ask them to leave. The game is about the players and if the buddy is doing too much or not treating the player well, it can ruin the experience for the player, and that is the whole reason they are there. There are a lot of similarities between Buddy Baseball and Tee-ball through a park district, with the main difference being lack of funding and lack of participation. The experience must be good for the player so that it gets around the community that this is a good way to allow kids with mental disabilities to get outside and have the same experiences as other kids.
A love of baseball inspired my cousin. He was an umpire for several years and heard about buddy baseball through a parent of a team he was umpiring for. He signed up as a volunteer and the first person he was paired up with was a young boy with downs syndrome. The player could do everything except for swing. My cousin said he was hooked from the first time he saw the player smile after he hit the ball and started to run towards first base. My cousin ended up spending the whole season paired up with this player and said he had more fun doing that than he had playing baseball himself. He has since become a coach and has been doing so for a few years now. He said nothing beats watching the sheer joy on the players faces as they play. They love it more than kids playing tee-ball or little league. My cousin has had parents tell him that they tried so many different outlets for their child to be able to experience things like this and nothing gave the kids more enjoyment than buddy baseball. Not only does it allow them to get outside and be kids, but it allows relationships to be built between the players and the parents. For a parent, there isn’t much better than watching your kid have the time of his/her life. It is a great opportunity to meet parents who have faced the same issues that they have and be able to talk to them about it.
The Aha! moment…
My cousin said he still hasn’t stopped learning. Due to buddy baseball, he decided to pursue his degree in special education. He is now a kindergarten teacher in a special education classroom. He says not only did buddy baseball point him towards his future career path, but it taught him how to handle kids with disabilities. He said he can’t even imagine what he would be doing if it wasn’t for that first day of buddy baseball. He has taken many of the lessons he learned on the field into the classroom, but most of all, he has learned to read their personalities and how to help them have fun. Like all other kids, they learn best when they are having fun and are engaged. My cousin said that he had preconceived notions of what kids with disabilities would be like and he was uncomfortable the first time he went, but getting out of his comfort zone was what he needed to find himself. The kids taught him more about himself than he could have ever taught them about baseball.
To summarize it in three words…
- smile, energy, fun
Why should you do this
Yes, 100%. Everyone should experience it, whether they like baseball or not and whether they think they can handle kids with disabilities or not.