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Hartselle Enquirer
Albany Holmes runs across home plate during a softball game for those with special needs May 8 at Sparkman Elementary School. She says the weekly games are "fun and exciting."  

Miracle moments: Softball league allows individuals with special needs to play sports 

By Erica Smith 

For the Enquirer  

Due to a disability, Albany Holmes never thought she would be able to participate in athletics. Yet every Monday for two months out of the year she is on a miracle field playing softball with other special needs children and adults. 

“I never thought I would ever be able to play sports, like just in general, and this program has helped me be able to at least play sports,” said Holmes, 11, from Priceville. “That’s been really special to me.” 

The Home Runs and Family Fun softball league holds games every Monday in the months of April and May at Sparkman Elementary School in Hartselle. Games are played on a miracle field donated in 2019 by Daikin America. Layne Dillard, 48, from Priceville, is the principal of Sparkman Elementary and director of the league that was started about 15 years ago. 

“This school used to house all the special needs (children) for the district,” she said. “So, they started a softball league several years ago and I’ve had it about eight years now.” 

This is Holmes’ first year in the league. She said her favorite part of softball is playing in the outfield or batting, and she hit a home run in last week’s game. 

“It’s just fun; they make it really fun and exciting,” she said. “It’s just a really good program.” 

Dillard said the league serves any special needs individuals in Morgan County. 

“We allow them to come out and play, … and their families can help them do things,” she said. “We just all play together; we just split the group when they show up every week depending on how many people show up. … We’ll have people as young as 4 here some nights and they may range all the way up to 45.” 

The league is important for those with special needs, Dillard said. 

“It just gives our families that have special needs students the opportunity to come out and experience sports like they would with any other child that doesn’t have some type of a disability that makes it more difficult to just have the mobility issues to be able to play,” she said. 

The games are noncompetitive, Dillard said, and they do not keep score. 

“It’s just really for them to be able to get out and have an opportunity to play ball and to enjoy what their peers enjoy, playing sports,” she said. “We may have a game where we have 30 (players) and then we may have a game where we’ll have 50. … We play with whoever shows up.” 

Dillard said they are never short on volunteers. 

“It’s really designed to bring out the people in the community. We always have volunteers from our high schools come,” she said. “It’s a win-win; it’s good for our special needs community but it’s also good for our regular community as well. … I think the best thing about it is it just shows off the best of our community.” 

The Daikin Field of Dreams where the games are held has a special surface. 

“The surface is made for wheelchairs and students who have mobility issues so that they can play on the field and not get hurt,” Dillard said. “It’s such an easy surface to push the wheelchairs on, for them to get around on it.” 

Samantha Busby, 39, from Somerville, said she has been playing in the league for a long time. She said first base is her favorite position. 

“Because it’s really close to the dugout,” Busby said. “I like (first base) because it’s more comfortable for me.” 

Busby said she has hit the ball far before and everyone at the field “clapped and it’s really fun.” She hopes to one day hit a home run and said it feels good to play softball. 

“Because I’m going to be the greatest athlete one day,” Busby said. “Softball, bowling.” 

Busby said she loves playing softball, but enjoys bowling more.