For many parents of children with disabilities, seeing their child participate in team sports like baseball may be a distant and forgotten dream. For others, providing the opportunity to kids with disabilities to experience the joy and camaraderie of baseball is just another day in the park.
Pam Baldwin, of Oregon, knows all too well what baseball and being a part of team has meant for her son Zach.
Zach is a member of The Jets, a team in the Greater Toledo Challengers Little League. Started 22 years ago in Maumee with just two teams, the league now has eight teams with over 100 children playing.
Zach Baldwin of Oregon, who plays for the Jets, goes
Zach, and his twin brother Tyler, both 17, were born prematurely. Zach, a student at Clay High School, has cerebral palsy. Tyler, a student at the Ohio Virtual Academy, has impaired vision and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
Pam said she and Zach became involved in the league when he was 5-years-old.
“It started out as a support system for me,” Pam said. “I have twin boys who have a disability so just being around others who were in similar situations really helped.”
Pam said what has kept her involved as both a coach and the league’s fundraising officer, is the joy she sees in her son’s and other children’s eyes when they play ball.
“He just loves it,” Pam said. “It makes him feel like a normal kid and that he is able to do what other kids are doing. You can see the joy in all of their faces. They are just having fun and it means so much to them. This is just a great opportunity for kids with disabilities to be around other kids, enjoy the game and be a part of a team. To see the smiles on all of their faces, it is just incredible.”
Although Tyler does not play, he is at the games for his brother. Tyler also works on the league’s website.
“Zach is in a wheelchair and his brother Tyler acts as his ‘buddy’ during games,” Pam said. “Zach has a power wheelchair, but Tyler will sometimes run the bases or go after a ball for him. Everybody in the league has a ‘buddy’ who will help them do what they are unable to do.”
Anileda Godfrey, president of GTCLL, said the league is open to children, ages 6 to 23, with any disability, physical or mental. Players come from Toledo and the surrounding areas, including Maumee, Holland, Perrysburg, Oregon, Northwood, East Toledo, and Ottawa Lake, Michigan.
Godfrey, a machinist at the Sunoco Refinery (Toledo Refining), became involved in the league many years ago.
“At the time, the fire marshal at the refinery, Grant Dalton, had a son, Arron, who had cerebral palsy. He asked if I would get involved and volunteer at the games. I just fell in love with the kids. I just decided to stick with it.”
Godfrey described the games as a combination of t-ball and baseball, played with a safety baseball. Everybody gets to play; there are no winners or losers.
“The kids are there to play ball,” Godfrey said. “They don’t care if anyone is good or not and they do not judge anyone. They just have a good time doing the best they can do.”
Games are held Sundays at 6 pm. at Rolf Park in Maumee.
As a part of Little League, the teams in the GTCLL participate in a statewide tournament every year. In 2010, the GTCLL hosted the tournament to 3,000 people and 500 players from across the state.
This year’s tournament will be July 20-22 in Wheelersburg, Ohio.
The GTCLL is currently planning to start an adult league next year for ages 16 and up. According to Godfrey, the Miracle League has offered one of their fields, behind the Northwood Fire Station No. 1, for the adult league.
For more information on the GTCLL, or to become a sponsor, visit the team’s website at http://gtcll.com.