Buddies Are Sluggers for a Day; Disabled Children Thrilled at Ballgame with JU Students

Article excerpt

Byline: Sandy Strickland, Times-Union staff writer

With all the energy of a 4-year-old, Madison LaFollette scampered across the field, scooped up the ball and gave a high-five.

The 2-foot-4-inch child was clearly delighted to be playing softball with her classmates on the "big field" at Jacksonville University.

Some were so enthusiastic that they overshot first base and had to be steered back to the orange cone. To the cheers of exuberant rooters, others walloped the ball off the tee and rapidly propelled their wheelchairs and walkers to first base.

The 32 physically handicapped students from Love Grove Elementary were playing an inaugural modified softball game Thursday on JU's Arlington campus. Each was paired with a "buddy," a JU student completing a pre-internship at the Southside elementary school.

Since January, the college students have been coming to Love Grove once a week to fulfill community service hours for their pre-internships.

When they walk in the door, the younger students jump in their arms, said Chris Solomon, adaptive physical education teacher at Love Grove.

"They have bonded so much with the JU students," Solomon said. "They were so excited about going to their school and playing on the big field. It's an opportunity they wouldn't normally get."

The game was the brainchild of JU students Jamie Ross, Stephanie Beasley and Janine Palumbo.

"We also play softball here so we thought it would be a good idea to have them over to the field, play ball and interact with all the members of the team," Beasley said.

Even the Dolphins mascot showed up to dispense hugs and cheers.

Ross, Palumbo and Beasley said they are grateful to JU professor Shannon Wood for giving them an opportunity to interact with the students. Beasley said they have become attached to the children and feel privileged to work with them.

During the game, they helped them bat, run and field. The students, who are in pre-kindergarten through fifth grade, were divided into four teams of eight players.

They played a modified form of tee-ball in which they took two practice swings off the tee. …