Cloverdale’s Challenger Baseball program is looking for buddies to play ball with.
Challenger Baseball gives athletes with disabilities a chance to play baseball in an inclusive setting. The games are for the joy of it all — no score is kept, and every player has the chance to swing a bat, circle the bases and play games.
Each player is partnered up with an able-bodied buddy who helps them play the game. But, more importantly, they provide companionship and friendship.
The Cloverdale-based team is now in its fourth year, and it’s more popular than ever — with about 60 registered to play this season, the program has quadrupled in size since its inaugural year.
And while the goal is always to have as many people play as possible, the team now needs more buddies to come out to Cloverdale Ball Park on Sunday afternoons to give a helping hand.
One only needs to take a glance at a Challenger game to see how much fun the players are having. Whether the player is taking their turn at bat or playing games in the outfield, there’s a smile on their face.
The joy extends to the buddies, too.
| A Challenger Baseball player clears second base.
For Hillary Birkett, 11, volunteering is about “seeing all the smiling faces.”
The program is important, she said, because it lets people “play baseball if they really like it. And I can hang out with a lot of friends.”
Although Hillary could choose to sign up as an athlete in the program, she feels able-bodied enough to be able to give back as a volunteer, explained program co-ordinator Jeff Sandes.
“I’m not really someone who likes baseball because I can’t see when the ball is right in front of me. I have no depth perception,” she explained. “So if I’m a buddy, I can help, get the ball, catch it and then give it to the player.”
The whole program, from the warm-up activities to the post-game dragon races, is “a lot of fun,” she said.
Fellow volunteer Griffin O’Connor, 18, has been volunteering with the program since it first came to Cloverdale.
“The first couple of games were way smaller than this,” he told the Reporter after a May 5 baseball game. “Mr. Sandes, he brought the enthusiasm every week, loved to be out here. And it just grew each week.”
When O’Connor started volunteering, he was in Grade 11 at Lord Tweedsmuir Secondary. “A lot of the [players] went to my school,” he said. “[But] I didn’t know anything about them.”
He soon learned about the player he was partnered up with; they were the same age and both attended Lord Tweedsmuir. It was as simple as knowing his name and being able to say hello in the hallways at school — they became friends.
Sandes said that high school-aged volunteers play a significant role in the program “because when a [player] is with another teenager, they feel like a normal teen.”
The partnership is great for the players, and it also has an important impact on the volunteers as well.
As Sandes explained, many teenagers “don’t realize that this world exists.” Through the program, they are “exposed to a world that they didn’t realize they could have such impact in.”
At many schools, he said, students with disabilities often have their own classroom or space within the building. “Their interaction with the rest of the population is pretty limited,” he said.
O’Connor made a big difference by reaching out to the player he was buddied up with at school, he said. “He started visiting his player at school and built a relationship with him.”
“That relationship makes the difference in his player’s life. It’s the only reason he comes out to these games, is to see Griffin.”
O’Connor, now a student at Simon Fraser University, has returned every season since to continue playing alongside his player, too.
With a growing program, Sandes has been struggling to get new volunteers from local high schools to participate. Despite giving information to Lord Tweedsmuir Secondary, Clayton Heights Secondary and Salish Secondary, he hasn’t seen much turn out from the schools so far this season.
“It disappoints me,” he said.
In case teens need an extra incentive other than a fun, enjoyable volunteer experience, Sandes highlighted that Challenger Baseball volunteers are eligible to apply for a $10,000 scholarship. Last year, three buddies from the Cloverdale program won that scholarship, including O’Connor.
All that is required of a good buddy is a “youthful heart,” because, after all, Challenger Baseball athletes are just looking to play and have fun. Games take place Sunday afternoons at Cloverdale Ball Park.
For more information on volunteering, contact Jeff Sandes at 778-708-0196 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The community can also support Cloverdale’s Challenger Baseball program by coming out for their upcoming fundraiser.
The program is looking to help pay for its athletes to travel to the annual jamboree — an event where Challenger programs from across B.C. get together for a few games, lunch and entertainment. It will be held in Kamloops this year, and Sandes is hoping to fundraise enough to help cover hotel costs for any player who wishes to come.
A variety of items and giveaways from local businesses will be raffled off at Cloverdale Ball Park on June 1 and 2. Tickets can be purchased on either day, and the draw will take place following the Sunday afternoon baseball game — around 2:15 p.m. on June 2.