Unified softball provides helping hands

Chad Miller has two boys into typical boys things, but they are involved in one thing he never imagined.

Miller and his 9-year-old son Hunter and 7-year-old son Owen play unified softball with the developmentally disabled.

Miller admitted his boys were a little unsure at first, but by the second game they warmed up to it.

“They love it,” said Miller of his sons’ interaction with the developmentally disabled. “It’s the best thing they’ve ever done if you ask them. They eat and breathe softball and they only have one game a week. All they want to do is play softball.”

There are six unified teams consisting of six unified partners (able-bodied people) and nine disabled athletes per team. They play games every Monday evening at Columbine Park.

“I have seen nothing but people come up to me and say this is amazing,” Mesa Developmental Services Supportive Living Coordinator Melissa Atchley said. “They say,

‘These kids are wonderful, they have great attitudes. I’ve had a conversion with one. It was probably two sentences long, but it was from their heart and what they were feeling.’ ”

Although the program started seven years ago, it’s taken off this year with the most teams in one year, as Atchley said she recalls.

“The bond is amazing,” Atchley said.

“It’s quick and I don’t think they are prepared for that. They are shocked how the clients get that. A lot of people are intimidated with disabled individuals. Once they step in and see they play softball and have lives, it’s more real for them. The big thing is they’re overwhelmed with passion afterwards. They show interaction with one another.”

Suzanne Masterson wasn’t sure what to expect when she decided to volunteer with Special Olympics a month ago.

“I thought it was great,” said Masterson, who is an assistant coach and player for the Dodgers team. “I never worked with developmentally disabled people. It’s a tremendous opportunity for me to help others.

“It’s great to see them get excited and light up because they get it. There is a lot of encouraging and teamwork. We play as hard as we can to help them.”

Beverly Dunham’s son Seth Dunham has played unified softball for three years now and loves it. In fact, he likes to pitch so much, he refuses to switch positions.

“He is a stud,” she said. “He loves to play. Most of the time he shows good sportsmanship.”

Seth Dunham said. “It’s fabulous.”

Teresa Carnahan, another MDS client, has played for four years and doesn’t mind playing with unified partners.

“It don’t matter,” she said. “I just like to play. It don’t matter if I’m in the outfield or by a base. The hitting is the best part.”

The athletes cheer, shout clap, even high-5 their opponent while running the bases, but it’s hard to say who has more fun — the athletes or the unified partners.

“The most captivating thing for me has been the quality of the people involved and the sincerity and camaraderie and encouraging others to do their best,” Masterson said.

“They get so excited. It’s great to see people learn and see it make a difference to them.”


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