As a child growing up in Spokane, team sports were a huge part of my life. The lessons I learned about cooperation, dedication and teamwork were invaluable to my growth. When I became a mom, I wanted my own kids to have the same experience. But because both of my children have disabilities, I quickly discovered the many roadblocks that exist for athletes with challenges like my children.
I joined with other like-minded parents to find a solution. The answer came in the form of the Babe Ruth League Inc.’s special Bambino Buddy-Ball Division. Bambino leagues allow players ages 5 to 20 who are either physically, emotionally and/or mentally challenged to play together with a “buddy” who will provide direction, encouragement, or help with swinging a bat, rounding the bases, catching a ball and more.
Once established, the Spokane chapter did just that, providing trained buddies of all ages for children and young adults with disabilities, in turn allowing them to fully participate and enjoy playing baseball in a team environment.
Over the first few years of running the program, we were astounded at the incredible growth that we witnessed in each child. They developed independence and enhanced self-confidence, better interpersonal skills and the improved ability to socialize and cooperate with their teammates. Aside from the other team members, each child in the program has the opportunity to interact closely with their coaches, their buddies and other volunteers.
My children have grown up and out of the Bambino Buddy-Ball program, and yet I continue to run the program because of the amazing athletes that I get the joy of working with, and the deep impact the program makes in their lives and in the lives of their families. We may only be playing baseball, but the life lessons that the program teaches go so much further than that of a mere game.
Despite the many benefits this program provides to kids with disabilities, the lack of an accessible (also known as “adaptive”) ballfield in Spokane has caused limitations for our teams.
Think about it. You wouldn’t expect a left-handed person to bat the same way as a right-handed person, would you? So why expect a child with a disability to play under the same conditions as a fully abled child?
The biggest issue we have faced over the years is the lack of maintenance on ballfields. The ruts in the local ballfields, caused by lack of upkeep, cause huge issues for kids in wheelchairs or who have gait issues. One child’s wheelchair even got caught and he was thrown head first into a base. We want our kids to be able to play safely, and this spurred our desire for an adaptive ballfield for our kids – to level the playing field, as it were.
In 2015, the Spokane Parks and Recreation Department took the first step by applying for a Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program grant. The $238,055 grant was approved by the state Legislature to build an adaptive multipurpose sports field at Mission Park. This ability field, the first of its kind in the Spokane area, is designed to be a “literal game changer” for athletes with disabilities.
The ability field has a low-maintenance synthetic surface and outfield fence, improved lighting, new accessible restrooms, expanded fully accessible pathways through the park and enhanced accessible parking options.
Along with the WWRP grant, a Youth Athletic Facilities grant, a grant from the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation, and various other donors, this incredible project was completed this year and a grand opening celebration will be held on Thursday.
This new ability field, in conjunction with the Bambino Buddy-Ball program, will allow kids and adults to learn and recreate together with the support of their peers and a playing field that actually works for them.
This would not have been possible without the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program, the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation, and our other generous donors. I am thrilled to be a part of this project, and excited for all of the athletes who will benefit from it.
Leslie Sigrah is the president of the Bambino Buddy-Ball League in Spokane and the mother of two athletes with disabilities.
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