Give Every Child a Chance to Play!
By the Ripken Foundation Board of Trustees
When you have a child with special needs you spend time focused on what makes them different. Eventually you start to notice the things that make them similar. One of the universal similarities is that they want to play like their peers. Even as adults, we want to play; it's wired into our DNA. Unfortunately the opportunities for kids with special needs to play are few and limited. Imagine yourself confined to a wheelchair or walker and trying to play baseball. Maybe it's a cognitive delay that makes understanding the game difficult.
For the last four years a local group of baseball coaches have made it possible for kids with special needs to play baseball. Each kid is paired up with a "buddy." The buddy is their gateway to playing. Buddies help with hitting, running the bases, and fielding. Your buddy is there to encourage you and be a friend standing next to you. It is baseball on a different level. Even when someone records an out the runner gets to stay on base. Every one bats each inning and everyone scores. What is the same is that these kids with Cerebral Palsy, Down Syndrome, Autism, or other disabilities get to play baseball just like their siblings and friends. They get to be part of a team and make friendships that last a life time. Most of the buddies are local high school baseball players.
Says Chris Russo, the father of 9 year old Tyler who has Down Syndrome,
"As parents, we are all excited to see our children have a special place to play the great game of baseball".
Their parents get the benefit of sitting and enjoying watching their kids play, often one of the only respite breaks they get during the week. They have an opportunity to meet parents who understand exactly what is going on in their lives. Lastly, the community benefits because the buddies have a life changing experience. They leave the baseball field with a different perspective on themselves, children with special needs, and the community. We are just starting to see the impact these young men will have on our community.
The problem in this equation is the weather. Currently, youth baseball that serves special needs children is dependent on perfect weather. Imagine trying to move a wheelchair across a wet or muddy field. Even days later, a storm can render a field unplayable. So many times the needs of these children are overlooked. Today there are NO fields in the region to support these important programs. Enter the first family of baseball, the Ripkens. Cal Riken Jr. and his brother Billy, through their foundation, have a vision that will give these kids a new place to play. A field designed to meet the needs of these kids and resist the weather. A field for all players, regardless of their abilities. This field is being built now in Fredericksburg, and will serve the entire region. The field appropriately named ABILTIY FIELD.
"Ability Field was a natural extension of the work we had been doing with under-privileged kids. The chance to help the kids least able to help themselves was something we jumped at." Cal Ripken Jr.
The Cal Ripken, Sr. Foundation is building ABILITY FIELD at its Youth Sports & Development Complex, Sunshine Ballpark, located off Fall Hill Avenue in Fredericksburg, Virginia. ABILITY FIELD will be built with surfaces that will allow children of all abilities to compete and provide a safe, year round facility. For years there has been a need and desire in the region for special needs team play, but there have been no facilities to support these programs.
The design phase for ABILITY FIELD has been competed. It will cost approximately $400,000 to complete the project. To date, over $200,000 has been donated by many caring and generous people and businesses in the community. Once complete, ABILITY FIELD will be the home of youth baseball and other activities for children of all abilities. Rather than trying to "make it work", it will be built to work. . ABILITY FIELD is designed to support programs for children with a range of physical and mental disabilities that include: Intellectual Disability, Autism, Developmental Delay, Emotional Disturbance, Hearing Impaired, ID Mild, ID Moderate, Learning Disability, Multiple Disabilities, Orthopedic Impairment, Other Health Impairment, Severe Disability, Student with Disability, and Traumatic Brain Injury. The need in our region is large. In the service area for ABILITY FIELD, there are over 5,000 children with special needs.
Ability Field's impact will extend to their families. Creating an environment to support programs that foster self esteem, peer-interaction, socialization and physical skills, will give parents a peace of mind and satisfaction. We know that children do well when their families do well and families do better when they live in supportive communities and neighborhoods. Ultimately it will help to bring a community of people together for support and encouragement, success and fun.
"I have seen the impact that this program has on my son. The camaraderie and friendship with other special needs kids and their buddies is amazing. Everyone should come out and watch one of these games." Aric N. Wagner father of a 14-year-old with cerebral palsy.
The goal of the Cal Ripken, Sr. Foundation and its partners is to impact 800 youth with special needs annually through diversified programming at ABILITY FIELD by 2014 and to increase the activity level and involvement in community life of children with special needs in order to:
Change their attitudes toward disability.
Improve their sense of self.
Increase their muscular strength.
Prevent their social isolation.
Develop and maintain their social skills.
Increase their knowledge of community resources.