In answer to the oft-repeated slur that pro-lifers care only for the fetus and not for the child beyond the womb, I offer the following as a refreshing break from the weighty subject matter that is regrettably routine on this blog.
I’m in my third year of coaching little league baseball, having done so on my son’s team since second grade. We are a parish Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) team, which is to say not nearly so competitive or advanced as a typical little league. We have five boys on the autism spectrum on the team, including my son.
Last year in spring training, we had a team where several of the boys had never picked up a baseball in their lives. That’s rough, especially as third grade is the first time that the boys play by standard rules. So the three coaches got together and agreed on our coaching philosophy and drafted the following letter to the parents:
23 April 2009
As the baseball season is about to begin, we would like to take this opportunity to send you the team schedule and share with you a few thoughts and pointers for making this a great experience for our sons.
First, this year will be very different from the boys’ previous experiences. We are now playing regular innings, three strikes, etc. This is usually a difficult adjustment for the batter when called out on strikes, and for the pitcher when he walks eight batters in a row!
Of course it would be wonderful if the boys won every game, but realistically, we need to be prepared for a few losses. That preparation begins with understanding why we are here (parish CYO as opposed to Babe Ruth League), and what it is we wish to accomplish.
The point of it all is to teach the boys the love of the game, improve their skills, build their self-confidence, and most of all to teach them the value of fair play and good sportsmanship. We coaches need your help with all of this.
Some boys will be more advanced than others. Some have been playing longer than others. On this team, every boy plays, and plays frequently! There will be no boy riding the bench. On this team, there will be no superstars and favorites. We coaches pay close attention to each boy at practice and in games, and we find something, no matter how small to praise them about. We ask that you do the same.
We will offer gentle correction in order to help the boys learn from mistakes. We will never criticize them. Experience shows that this works best when left to the coaches and left on the field. What the boys need most is PRAISE, PRAISE, PRAISE.
Accordingly, we will not tolerate parents ridiculing other children, their own children, other coaches, our coaches or umpires. We have cell phones and the numbers of CYO officials if an umpire shows that he is not up to the job, though that is unlikely. That having been said, CYO has implemented a new program of training and certification for umpires and has fielded the best group of umpires and coaches in its long and impressive history of fostering character formation in our children and those who serve them.
If there are any special accommodations your son requires, if there is any special information we need to know to make this a terrific and memorable experience for your son, please don’t hesitate to tell us. In the meantime, we look forward to seeing you at the games and look forward to providing our sons with memories that will last a lifetime.
Don Rizzo, Coach
Gerry Nadal & Joe Pigott,
And so it began last year, a perfect season. Zero wins and 15 losses!! Though it was tough to swallow, the boys never complained, cheered one another on, and never, ever quit. Not one! Not even with a 43-0 defeat one game. We coaches agreed that we would never invoke the mercy rule and call a game. We weren’t going to quit on them, and expected them to follow suit. We simply told the boys that the lopsided games were to be treated as great fielding practice. And so it went. Every boy played every game, and we found something, ANYTHING to praise, even if it was the commanding way the boys swung that bat as they went down on strikes!
This year they all returned, in the words of one of the grandfathers, “Full of piss and vinegar.”
This year these same boys shut out 2 teams, one of them 20-0. They made the playoffs, and won their first playoff game 13-4 against a team that they tied 3-3 at the beginning of the season. The scores in the lopsided games would have been much higher had we coaches not held the boys back (out of sportsmanship) in base running.
Today is the second playoff game, if the rains hold off.
It’s been a team effort all the way with parents, kids and coaches. Many dads have pitched in at practices, and we have welcomed all of their input. We coaches have lived that letter to the parents, and the approach has been transformative in the lives of all the boys. More than a few parents have teared up at the sight of their autistic boys being cheered by their teammates, at our sons being embraced and high-fived in the dugout.
And when not exhorting batters from my position as third base coach, or leading the cheers, I sometimes find myself being an outside observer of this wondrous sight: Of handicapped boys made less so by dedicated parents and coaches, by peers who welcome them with hearts as wide as the ocean. It’s just one small contribution to building a Culture of Life and a Civilization of Love. The other boys on the team are growing in the realization that there’s a place for everyone at the table, even those shy and otherwise socially hesitant kids like my Joseph who brought two of them around to score with a 2 RBI double, and a triple that turned the tide of their last game.
The score of today’s game later this afternoon doesn’t matter.