Mike and Jennifer Broadbent’s 10-year-old son, Chase, has been spending his summers at Jubilee Field with the Corner Brook Minor Baseball Association for four years now.
“He loves it,” says Jennifer.
Sadly, it was a pastime she didn’t expect Chase’s younger brother, Obie, would ever get the chance to enjoy.
Three-year-old Obie suffers from a rare condition known as PURA syndrome, which affects his cognition and movement.
“He’s learning to walk, but he’s unstable,” said Jennifer. “His co-ordination isn’t great.”
She said he might wind up in a wheelchair, or maybe he’ll one day be able to walk short distances, but he will always need help.
Obviously, the baseball diamond seemed like a pipe dream.
This summer, however, the city baseball association will introduce the Challenger Baseball program, which is designed to provide an opportunity for children and youth with cognitive or physical disabilities to enjoy baseball at a level structured to their abilities.
Jennifer got wind of the program through Facebook and her heart skipped a beat.
“When I saw that, it was pretty exciting,” she said. “I didn’t think Corner Brook was offering anything like that, so we just sort of thought maybe baseball wasn’t something Obie was going to get a chance to do.”
Jennifer’s one concern is whether the program will last long enough for Obie to be eligible to take part, as the minimum age requirement for minor baseball is five.
Corner Brook Baseball Association president Jason Mosher doesn’t think that will be an issue. He believes in the viability of the program and points to the success of the venture in St. John’s as proof.
“I’ve been wanting to get it on the go for the last couple of years,” Mosher said. “It seems as though (St. John’s) has really taken off, so now is the right time to get it going.”
Mosher said the association has had at least 10-15 parents of challenged children contact them so far, which is a great sign for a first-year program. But he stresses everyone on board is committed to seeing it through, regardless of the numbers registered.
“It’s a program for challenged people who need help,” he said. “If we have five kids we’ll make it work, if we have 100 kids we’ll make it work.”
Though the minimum age to register is five, Mosher said there is no real maximum age on challenger minor baseball.
According to the Baseball Canada website, the program aims to teach children and youth the core life skills inherent to baseball, including teamwork, communication, determination, resiliency, inclusion, independence, confidence, social skills and courage.
Buddies are assigned to each player to help provide a safe and enjoyable experience and to assist players with all aspects of the game.
Mosher said there is no previous experience of working with challenged youth required to volunteer as one of those buddies, but the association will also ask individuals they believe would have an interest and the know-how to do so.
Whether or not the participants are split into age groups or skill levels will depend on the numbers involved.
“But we’re not going to put anybody in a situation where they could get hurt,” Mosher said.
The Broadbents are new to being parents of a child with disabilities and have few friends in the same situation. The inception of this program will open doors for not just Obie, but for all of them as a family.
“I just think any way Corner Brook can make anything accessible to all children is a good thing,” said Jennifer.