ORANGEBURG, N.Y. - Javelins were thrown and hurdles were jumped over as the Buddyball track and field season came to a close.
Buddyball Sports, part of Orangetown Mighty Midgets Soccer, began 15 years ago in the fall of 2001 when soccer was offered after Kerry Beckmann, Ellen Huber, and Kevin Powers noticed a number of children on the sidelines at games who couldn’t participate.
The solution was Buddyball, a program that allows children with developmental disabilities a chance to be part of a team, play sports, and socialize with other children. The children who participate get a t-shirt and are paired off with a “buddy,” who were originally OMM soccer players but are now teenage volunteers from the area.
Over the years the program has swelled and now offers three sports-soccer, basketball, and track and field-and draws teenage volunteers and participants from the Rockland County area and New Jersey. Between all three sports there are 250 participants and even more buddies that volunteer.
“You feel like you’re part of a team. You feel like you’re a regular kid,” Beckmann said. The program wrapped up it's season on June 12 with the awarding of medals at the Tappan Zee High School track.
The track and field events on Sunday included hurdles, the javelin, shot put, long jump, and a relay race. Powers even joined in the hurdles event with some of the children, clad in his Spiderman t-shirt with a cape attached.
“They love superheroes,” Powers said of his attire.
While the event is great fun for the kids, it’s also an opportunity for the parents to talk with each other and learn about resources available for their children.
Cheryl Rizzuti recalled signing her son Anthony up for the program at least seven years ago. Anthony, who is 15 years old now, has Autism and wakes up excited to come to Buddyball each Sunday.
“He’s become so much more social because of it,” Rizzuti said. And the connections made at Buddyball extend beyond Sundays. Recently, a bunch of the children and parents got together for a pool party outside, Rizzuti said.
“This is my happiest day of the week,” John Smith said. Smith was just an onlooker Sunday as his son, also named John, helped as a buddy with the shot put event. John is 28 and has Agensis of the corpus collasum (ACC).
John originally took part in the program, and once he grew too old to participate, decided to be a buddy. His father oversees the basketball program in the winter at Albertus Magnus High School, where members of the boys and girls varsity basketball teams volunteer, something that is really special for the children.
But it’s equally significant for the buddies, who Powers has noticed, are inclusive of these children outside of the program in places like the school cafeteria.
“The benefit to the Rockland County area-and New Jersey-is [buddies] start to see these kids as kids,” Powers said.