Matthews Athletic and Recreation Association hosts softball camp for special needs children, seeks volunteers
Tracey Backus of Matthews always wanted to see her daughter, Caroline, participate in sports.
An athlete herself, Backus was devastated to learn Caroline had cerebral palsy and would not be able to participate in traditional sports due to her physical challenges.
“Both my husband and I are really sports-minded, so our dream was to play sports with our kid,” Backus said.
And through Bambino Buddy-Ball, they can.
The program, hosted by the nonprofit Matthews Athletic and Recreation Association, offers a friendly game of softball to children ages 5 to 18 who have physical or mental challenges. Backus first registered Caroline in 2008, at age 7. Caroline, now 11, has participated each year since, discovering that her physical limitations are not so limiting after all.
For the fifth year in a row, the association is once again reaching out to special needs children like Caroline through the spring Bambino Buddy-Ball league. Games take place nearly every Sunday afternoon from March 25 to June 10 at Arthur Goodman Park, 1098 S. Trade St., in Matthews. Registration is free to all participants and each player will receive a uniform and a trophy.
The players, or “bambinos,” spend about one hour on the field in full uniform. The games combine tee-ball, coach-pitch and kid-pitch to accommodate each player’s level and abilities. Trained coaches and umpires volunteer, creating a real and authentic athletic environment.
Youth athletes, many of whom are recruited from association teams, volunteer at the games to ensure the safety of the children and offer bambinos encouragement and assistance. Many of these volunteers, or “buddies,” return, giving the bambinos a chance to work with the same buddy each year.
“The biggest thing is that the players and buddies return,” Charles Angerson, commissioner for the 2012 Bambino Buddy-Ball, said. “The fact that there are a lot of returning players says a lot about how much they enjoy it.”
Bambino Buddy-Ball began in 2008 when the association chose to reach out to children with special needs through softball. The program is funded by a five-year grant from Speedway Children’s Charity in Charlotte.
During its first year, Bambino Buddy-Ball saw only a handful of players. But by 2009, the event had grown to 23 players. And organizers would like to see new names added to the roster this year.
“We’re trying to get the word out and get our numbers up, so we can offer more (special needs) sports as well,” Angerson said, adding that hosting football in the fall may be an option for the future if Bambino Buddy-Ball continues to grow.
Angerson himself first got involved with Bambino Buddy-Ball when his son volunteered to be a buddy last spring. A coach for years, Angerson volunteered in the fall and is serving as commissioner for the first time.
“It’s great for (all) who are volunteering, and the kids love this,” Angerson said. “They like to get in there and get dirty and just have fun. I can’t think of anything better for them.”
Backus has seen firsthand how the league can transform the life of a player through watching her daughter Caroline participate.
“She’s gotten a ton out of it and looks forward to it every Sunday,” Backus said. “She’s very social and very active and involved in whatever’s put out there for kids with disabilities. We like to see her out there enjoying herself and it’s great to see typical kids reaching out to kids with disabilities.”
Know a bambino?
If you have or know a student with special needs who would be interested in playing Bambino Buddy-Ball, call Charles Angerson at 980-233-0466 or find more information online at www.marasports.org. Donations are welcome.
Volunteers also are needed to serve as “buddies” for the players. To volunteer, e-mail email@example.com.