‘Buddy Baseball’

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Imagine a baseball league designed specifically for children with disabilities. They have been formed across the country, and now one of them calls our area home. It’s giving special needs children the opportunity to play the game they love and parents the chance to see their own become stars.

It’s not everyday that you get to meet a group of people that you can remember for your entire life.

What appears to be a normal baseball diamond in Paris, Texas, could and should be considered a field of dreams.

They hit, make their way around the bases to the best of their ability, and when it's needed these stars play defense—all for the love of America’s pastime, and all of it made possible through a program called buddy baseball.

Buddy baseball was started by the red river valley down syndrome society and is designed specifically for physically and mentally disabled children, ages 5-18.

But what makes this league special is that each player is assigned a companion, or buddy, not to play the game for them- but to help them along.

In its second season, the league is slowly making a name for itself.

"More than anything, it was just getting the word out, we still have parent and kids that come up and say hey I didn't know you guys were doing this."

Deanna Tharpe is the executive director of the Red River Down Syndrome Society and says the organization was looking for something to give those with disabilities a chance to enjoy the popular game just like everyone else.

"It’s a relief, its exciting, and its heart warming not just to see for my kids, especially the ones that aren't mobile who have the use of a chair, for them to get out there because they would not have any opportunity otherwise."

But for Tharpe, her attachment to the program is personal.

Her son, little Joel is part of the program. Before the program started, he played in Little League, something which Tharpe says wasn't so easy.

"It was frustrating to me because he has his days and it’s kind of hard when other parents are very competitive even at a young age. It’s very competitive, and you don't want to feel like your keeping your team down and you don't want your child to feel that way either."

But here, that’s not the case. There is no score. Everyone hits in every inning, and everyone scores a run in every inning, putting each player in the spot light.

Experts say a program like buddy baseball provides a social outlet for those with disabilities.

Doctor Clyde Shaw is a pediatrician at Wilson N. Jones Hospital.

As is the case with 16-year-old Susie Stewart, whose mother Jonnie always tries to provide the same thing other children have to her daughter, like signing her up in the league.

"The hurts, the feeling, the emotion, we have with children that have special needs, each mother, it’s helpful to us all as we group together and grow."

And in true team form, Susie puts her teammates first.

“Why do you like your teammates so much?”

“Cause they are good friends. They’re good, and I love them."

For now, the stars and buddies will come to this field in Paris, Texas, and while it might not be Iowa, for a couple of Saturdays in the spring, this is where dreams come true from everyone.

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