Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Structured Athletics for Challenged Children: This Parent-Founded Sports Program Gets All Kids in the Game! (Adaptive Recreation)

Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Structured Athletics for Challenged Children: This Parent-Founded Sports Program Gets All Kids in the Game! (Adaptive Recreation)

Article excerpt

Children with special needs are often left out of the athletics in their community, simply because no one realizes their abilities. When given the chance to participate, however, these children are able to reach goals beyond any ever thought possible. Additionally, having children with disabilities out and active in the community will promote their acceptance by all.

As my oldest son, Trey, who has Down syndrome, grew up, I wanted him to have the opportunity to participate in sports and not always have to be a spectator at his brothers' sporting events. I was curious to find out if there were other parents who felt the same. So, with the help of another mom, Cheryl Strupe (whose daughter has spina bifida), I began researching the interest level in and around our Mooresville, North Carolina, community. Our baseball program began shortly after that in 1996 with 32 participants. Today we offer six sports to approximately 100 children, including baseball, soccer, basketball, bowling, martial arts training (Kung Fu), and gymnastics/weight training.

THE NAME OF THE GAME

We named the program SACC, Structured Athletics for Challenged Children, and made it a nonprofit organization whose mission is to enable children with physical and/or mental disabilities, ages 6-18, to enjoy the many benefits of participating in a year-round athletic environment structured to their abilities. The invaluable results for kids in the program have been in the areas of socialization, therapeutic benefits, and the positive impact on their self-esteem.

HAVING A GREAT TIME (AND LEARNING, TOO)

When we first started the program, we had a boy with autism who came to our first practice in a large stroller. By our first game, he was out of his stroller and on the field. During soccer, I remember that every time he got the ball, instead of kicking it, he would throw it over the fence! That was okay because the important thing was that he was out there participating. He has been involved in SACC for approximately 3 years, participating in every sport offered. This past year during bowling, this same child, who had trouble sitting still or paying close attention, was sitting in his chair until it was his turn to bowl. When his name was called, he would bowl his turn and return to his seat. His mother remarked about these changes that no therapy in the world could have brought him this far.

Many players have made some remarkable gains, and my own son is no exception. Though he still has difficulty with balance and his speech is limited, none of that matters when he is up at bat, helmet on, and bat on his shoulder. No matter how far the ball goes when he makes contact, he thinks he has hit a home run. He goes running to first base with his buddy, arms waving in the air as the crowd cheers him on. When he gets there he has to "high-five" everyone around. Tears come to my eyes because I know he is having a great time and I helped to make that happen.

BUDDIES

Buddies are very important to the success of the SACC program. These volunteers assist the children in their chosen sport. The buddies are supportive, positive, and encourage the players at all times, while providing enough assistance required to enable a player to participate in the game. Since they come from the community at large, the buddies also function to help foster acceptance of children with special needs.

Once, a buddy came up to me and said, "I'm not sure if I'm doing exactly what I should be doing." I asked her what she meant. She said, "I keep talking to my player and all she does is smile at me." (The child was in a wheelchair and could not talk or move.) I told her, "You're doing great--her smile is telling you that she is happy!"

Sara Cravens has been a buddy for the softball, bowling, and basketball programs in Cookeville, Tennessee. Her dad told her about the program and, because she enjoys working with children, she decided to volunteer. …

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