Finding ways to make sports accessible to the special needs population is growing.
Burbank is one of the communities that supports that effort in baseball.
Saturday kicked off the third season of Piper’s Pals participating in the Hap Minor Baseball League at George Izay Park.
“We started this because we were at a sporting goods store and my boys saw their sister (Piper), who is currently 21, (but) mentally about 18 months old, getting made fun of by two brothers,” said Tiffany Nelson, who along with her husband Duane, has coached youth baseball in the city for many years. “They had never noticed it before. That night they had a meltdown. They realized she’d never drive a car, never ride a bike, never ride a skateboard, and my youngest was upset because she’ll never be able to take him to get ice cream. So they said, why can’t they play baseball? Why can’t we make something to that they don’t get hurt we said okay. So in honor of our daughter, we started Piper’s pals.”
The team has players who have a number of illnesses that would prevent them from playing if not for the help of the Nelsons, who get players from the Wolfpack, a regular Hap Minor team, to participate as buddies for the Piper’s Pal players. The Wolfpack players guide the Piper’s Pal players in playing the game.
“We’re trying to expand the program not only for special needs kids but for ages, starting at age 3 instead of age 5 and if you don’t make the high school team, you can still play until you are a sophomore,” Nelson said.
I have some that in a tournament for Burroughs, and they keep coming back and helping.
We’re trying to get through to those kids that these kids go to school with you. These kids walk the same halls, but you walk past right by them.”
Nelson recalled three years ago words from one of the players that made it difficult not to shed a tear.
“(He) said coach can I tell you something, I have friends now. We played baseball and the boys remember me for playing baseball’. To hear him saying he has friends, I’m not crying you are crying,” Nelson said.
Participation in the program has continued to grow.
“Nelson said next year it looks like we are going to have two teams for Piper’s palls. Right now, I have 19 kids on this one and I have some parents on a waiting list,” she said.
Nelson said Piper’s Pals play one game every Saturday for an hour.
“We sent out an email and ask if you are willing to have your kids come out, and there are teams that say no and don’t want to waste their day playing against us,” Nelson said.
Her hope is that one day everyone will embrace the idea of playing with teams like Piper’s Pals.