Appeared in Brownsville Herarld and Valley Morning Star on April 21, 2013
By Lisa Mitchell-Bennett
As we saw this week in Boston, how we respond to a horrific one-time event of adversity and tragedy says a lot about who we are as a people. But I would venture to say that how we respond daily to the on-going challenges and special needs of children right here in our community says even more about who we are.
Schools and cities with winning sports teams are great, but a community that values all of its members, regardless of their abilities or physical limitations, should be our highest aim. Thanks to the work of non-profit Down by the Border co-founders Dolores and Sergio Zarate, and the City of Brownsville Parks and Recreation Department, the conversation has begun about how to include all kids in recreation, sport and play. At the recent dedication of Oliveira Park’s new special needs baseball field, the first of its kind south of San Antonio, Sergio Zarate shared, “Our dream is to have special needs baseball and soccer leagues play on this field year-round. We are creating a volunteer buddy program so we can accommodate higher, middle and lower functioning kids and provide them with an opportunity to play. It will be a league for special needs children to have fun and exercise.” There is also a fully accessible playground area in the works at Oliveira Park.
At the dedication ceremony of the Star League Field this past week, there wasn’t a dry eye in the crowd as we watched beautiful children of all abilities and ages take to the field to play.
As the little ones lined up to bat, Pace High School baseball players were paired out in the field with the older kids who are students from Pace High School special needs life skills program. They seemed thrilled to get that one-on-one attention from the baseball players and I venture to say that, while they all attend the same high school, this was likely the first time they had ever spoken to each other. The baseball players seemed touched by the experience as well and demonstrated such caring and respect that should make their parents and coaches proud. It dawned on me watching them that this connection, this interaction between kids living such different lives—those who are able-bodied and “successful” by society’s standards, and those who bravely face each day being labeled as “different”, “disabled”, or called even worse– is so valuable for all involved! This kind of connection represents the best of our humanity.
Several parents helped their kids hold and swing the bat. Baseball players carried some kids around the bases. As each child crossed home plate, whether in a wheelchair, walker or held by the hand, their faces beamed with pride and joy.
Our lives are all enriched when we embrace those of us with the greatest challenges. We learn about ourselves, we learn to be grateful and we learn to look at our world from a new perspective. The worse thing we can do is stay in separate worlds. The best we can do is to cultivate opportunities for all of us to interact and learn from each other. The Star League Field and the planned buddy league will provide Brownsville many opportunities to show the region and other communities our best qualities, and to draw families with special needs to this one of a kind park to play, learn, compete and enjoy. It will also provide young and old with opportunities to volunteer as buddies, and to learn about Autism, Cerebral Palsy, Down’s Syndrome and many other challenges faced by parents and children who are also our co-workers, neighbors and classmates.
As the ceremony came to a close, Luis Molina, 14, confidently read the last phrases of a poem (Author Unknown) into the microphone. He wasn’t the least bit intimidated by the impressive crowd of community leaders, athletes, politicians and educators standing before him.
“…Though not the same start
The Lord gave me life to live and embrace
And I’ll do it as you do
But at my own pace.”
And then he proceeded to hit the ball and run around the bases to the cheers and pom poms of the Pacers dance team. He beamed, “It was awesome! My favorite part of the day was getting to hit the ball!”
Just like all kids, he just wants to play! Tu Salud ¡Si Cuenta! (Your Health Mattes!)
To volunteer or for more information go to the Star League Field Facebook page.