Home runs and family fun
Softball program for special needs kids sparks excitement at Sparkman School
Special needs students at Sparkman School are living a dream that in the real world is limited mostly to gifted athletes.
As participants in a Home Runs and Family Fun slow-pitch softball program, they’re experiencing every aspect of the game, from hitting to running the bases and scoring to catching flies and grounders and getting a free snack at the concession stand. Furthermore, they’re constantly being cheered on and applauded by other players, family members and on-the-field volunteers.
It doesn’t matter that the players, two of which are confined to wheelchairs, will never make it to the major leagues. When the games are over, they all go home as winners.
“I’ve never seen this much excitement and support surrounding a school activity in the five years I’ve worked here,” said bookkeeper Angie Tucker, who played a lead role in getting the program started. “Students come up to me in the hallway and want to know when the next game is scheduled, and fans flock to the games in droves.
“We had a softball field on campus that was wasting away and I felt there was a need for a softball program for the 68 special needs kids who go to school here. My problem was I didn’t know how to get a program started. “That’s where Cam Harris, our SEDA coordinator, came into the picture. She had helped to organize a special needs softball program in Decatur six years ago and agreed to help.
“She is our godsend, a fundraiser, an organizer, coach, umpire and cheerleader.”
There are three teams with about 28 regular players, with games scheduled on Thursdays. t.
“ One team rests while the other two play, and each player gets to bat twice, ” Harris said. “Batters have the option of hitting the ball off a tee if they fail to hit it after three live-pitch strikes. Volunteer aides stand by at each base to assist players who need help running the base paths. They all want to hit the ball and cross home plate so they can hear the applause.
“I don’t think of these kids being any different from others. They like to laugh and kid around with each other, play the game and have fun. They’re good sports, too. We haven’t had a single ugly incident.”
Tucker said local financial support was essential to getting the program off the ground.
“Members of Victory Baptist Church got us started with a $100 donation when they learned we needed money to buy equipment,” she said. “They took up another $100 at their Easter service. Pepsi donated drinks for snack time and $500 was donated by the Wal-Mart Foundation. Plus, the WMU of Mt. Zion Baptist Church gave us a hamburger and hot dog picnic in the school cafeteria.”
Parents of players are among the program’s biggest boosters.
Dee Walker, mother of Madison, said her daughter loves the games.
“It’s easier to get her out of bed when I tell her it’s softball day,” she said.
“The faster he goes around the bases the better he likes it,” Amy Miller said about her son, Casey, who is confined to a wheelchair.
Garrett Tucker, a rising senior basketball player at Brewer High, said it’s a pleasure for him to be a part of the program.
“Lots of these kids come to see me play and by coming here and helping out on Thursday nights, I get to see them play,” he said. “Seeing the smiles on their faces and hearing them laugh makes me feed good.”