“My 10-year-old daughter Sarah has watched her brothers play for years,” said Quintana. “She wants to go out and hit the ball.”
While there are a couple of leagues for special needs children, Greensboro and High Point were too far for Quintana to join. So she asked her neighbor, Glenn Garner – one of SRA’s vice-presidents of baseball – if SRA could form a special league to include kids like Sarah.
In the meantime, DeLoach’s son was on a travel team with SRA President Barry Wesoly’s son, so she approached Wesoly with the same request.
Garner and Wesoly brought the two moms together – and from there, the Heroes League was born for special needs children, ages 4 to 17.
The moms and men organized a game for May 29 at Summerfield Athletic Park. Flyers were distributed via SRA, on Facebook, the Northwest Observer and through emails. Word of mouth spread fast, and 18 athletes registered by the sign-up deadline.
“We had tons of people coming forward wanting to help – it was overwhelming,” said Quintana. “Then businesses said they wanted to sponsor us, so it got bigger.”
Summerfield offered field time for the game at Summerfield Athletic Park, and a local lawn care company dried out the rain-soaked field at no charge. SRA Coach Gene Nitz of Nitz Graphics Services designed shirts for free, and Garner provided medals for the children.
“We didn’t even ask for volunteers. We thought we could just get SRA players to volunteer, but we had people emailing us saying they and their family or neighbors wanted to volunteer,” said Quintana.
“We had so many kids in the outfield, with volunteers there for support,” she said. “That means a lot, because when you have a child with special needs, it’s sometimes really difficult to get acceptance for them and have kids understand what they need. It was just awesome to have so many volunteer kids out there saying, ‘Hey, I’m here, what do you need?'”
By game night, 24 special needs children gathered at the field. The crowd cheered as each child was introduced and made their way along a path lined by enthusiastic SRA players and coaches.
Quintana later heard from many of the children’s parents, who were elated that their children were “typical” and smiling at the event.
“They just don’t get that [usually] because they don’t feel like a typical kid. It was not a long game – just one inning – but for just that moment… what makes it all worth it is for a parent to say ‘My child was a child for an evening,'” said Quintana.
“When you have a child with special needs and go through the daily grind of things, and then [at the game] you don’t have to worry about that, it’s an amazing feeling,” she said.
“Some of the kids had no idea what they were supposed to do. But once they do it a couple of times, they will start to recognize they are supposed to hit the ball and run the bases,” said Quintana, adding that a fall Heroes League is in the works. “We like that it’s grassroots and local. The support was there, and obviously there’s a need for it.”
After the game, some of the spectators offered to sponsor the league for the fall. Quintana hopes to have bats, gloves and hats for the special needs athletes so they will have their own “league equipment.”
The Heroes League will have online registration through the SRA beginning in August, but organizers are unsure of the number of games they will initially offer.
“If you do too much, they might not want to come to every game,” said Quintana. “We need to take baby steps, and figure out what people want and don’t want.”
She said they may break the children up on separate fields, where some can play the game, and others can just hit the ball or just run.
For more information on the Heroes League, email SRAHeroesLeague@gmail.com, or keep an eye on SRA’s website, www.summerfieldrec.org.