Another post where I realize I’m the one with challenges
You know why they call it “Challenger Baseball”? Because it challenges your long-held beliefs. Because it makes you look deep inside and deal with what you believe not only about yourself, but what’s best for your kids, and even the identity of your family. See, I’m a self-proclaimed radical inclusionist. I believe to my core that kids with disabilities benefit infinitely from being included in general education classrooms, in churches, and in community activities. Now, here comes the train wreck: after moving to Our Town our kids had been invited to join a baseball team for kids with special needs and teams for kids with special needs are decidedly NOT inclusive because to be able to participate you have to have some kind of “dis”ability. The second part of my problem was that our daughter had just recently benefited tremendously by playing on a soccer team for kids with special needs in our previous community in the South Bay of Los Angeles, and I couldn’t argue with the results. I was in quite the pickle: I knew that neither of my children would ever be welcome to play on any team with typically developing kids, and with my daughter having played fall soccer I could see with my own two eyes how being on that team had allowed her to shine so bright and gain so much confidence in just a matter of weeks it was staggering. (And ya, that was me crying like a baby on the sidelines of her soccer game on that Saturday in early March when I realized we would be moving within a matter of days.)
But here we were, brand new to Our Town and faced with this new opportunity. I was 99% sure our daughter wasn’t going to go for it (our daughter takes awhile to adjust to change (okay, okay, she doesn’t transition AT ALL), and she had just adamantly refused to play on a similar baseball team back in Manhattan Beach, and on my son’s side I was positive there was NO way he would find it remotely enjoyable to throw a ball when someone actually wanted him to and to where someone wanted him to. And the whole batting thing? Um, ya……..taking the “Manny Ramirez batting stance” in the reflection of the back patio sliding glass doors is entirely different from facing the “high pressure” situation of batting off a T (ya, I had done my homework; I know ALL about those Little League Parents). I just knew it wouldn’t work. But my husband’s friend and his secretary (who really is the driving force of the entire Challenger Baseball league) convinced us that the kids would absolutely love it and that the whole organization was filled with amazing families. My daughter cautiously said she’d give it a try and Hayden, being non verbal, didn’t really have a choice. We figured we’d have him try it, but if he looked or acted unhappy, we’d let him quit immediately and join us in the stands.
This is Hayden before the start of his first game looking quite miserable and upset:
This is Hayden leading the team and everyone in the stands in a cheer for him at his first ever at-bat. Not a great photo I know, but you should have heard the crowd laugh and cheer with him; sheer JOY!
Okay, so it looked like the boy was going to be okay. The daughter? She LOVED IT from the first second and I wish I had a photo of that. For the first game our team’s buddies were the girls from the local university’s varsity softball team, and as “luck” would have it, two of them lived next door to us, but we hadn’t met them yet. Jackpot!! Our daughter was THRILLED to meet real live girl college athletes….plus they were NEIGHBORS who would be her INSTANT (in her mind) playmates. Cha Ching!!
So now Challenger Baseball was underway in Our Town and it just got better and better with each game. The next week the buddies were the football players from the local university led by the brand new head football coach, and those guys were awesome; friendly, outgoing, smiles a mile wide long and their whole focus was to make sure our kids had fun. Week after week university athletes, kids from a local youth group, local high school all star baseball players came and our kids were having a blast; they laughed, they ran, they threw, they batted, they stomped on home base like it was a giant bug to squish, and they grinned from ear to ear when they saw all of us cheering for them.
And then for the last game, the piece de resistance that all the Challenger families had been joyfully anticipating all season long: four participating teams from the national Junior College World Series Tournament came to town early to be buddies for our kids for their last game. The mood was set when each JUCO player handed his buddy (one of our kids) a t-shirt and matching cap from his team (oh ya, there I go again getting all weepy). After the game we had a big ol’ barbeque and I don’t know about anybody else’s, but our buddies were stuck with us like we gave them an option (like we gave them an option) for the entire picnic and I’m pretty sure my daughter was the happiest child on earth: she had her very own baseball player (you can’t get those at Petco now can ya? huh?), and he really liked her lizard, Al the team mascot (Al went to most of the games in his own carrying case stocked with his own pipe-cleaner sword and a plastic knight inside his enclosure should he want to take a jaunty ride during the game). Life was good! Hayden’s buddy was just one big walking smile from the second he met Hayden. He followed him ALL over the ball field (and I do mean ALL over, because Hayden never stays in one place for more than :14 seconds), shagged all the balls that Hayden valiantly tried to pitch over the ginormously tall fence that separated the bleachers from the field, and even spoke to him in sign language because he had taken four years of American Sign Language in high school. Ya, sometimes membership has its rewards. Our kids were feelin’ the love and basking in the sunshine of friendship.
So in the end Challenger Baseball for me was a joy-filled paradox. There’s no arguing that it IS a team for kids with special needs. Neuro Typicals, or Physical Typicals need not apply. But the amazing love and camaraderie that come with this league, to me, far out weighed the philosophical downsides; the fact that parents for both teams to cheer for both sides, the fact that EVERY batter makes it on base because we don’t keep track of strikes and balls, and the fact that every last at-bat is a “three run homer” whether it truly is or not, all added up to the definition of fun if you go by the looks on all our kids’ faces. So I learned that there are many typical moments in the midst of living a decidedly UNtypical life. I mean, what’s parenting about if it’s not about brimming with pride when your child is doing the very best he/she can? Sometimes 150% effort and joyful exuberance bust through the boundaries of semantics and the word inclusion is relegated to just a word.
If you’ve somehow made it to the end of this post, reward yourself and watch this video montage of the last Challenger Baseball game with the JUCO World Series players. Enjoy:
PS. I’m trying to post some photos of my daughter too, but I’m having mondo-technical difficulties right now getting them to load. So bear with me, as soon as JUCO’s over, my I.T. dept will be right on it…..I’m sure of it.