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Little League, BIG Fun
Two Little League teams enable disabled athletes
During a warm afternoon practice, Gavin Lee watches as a teammate hits the ball toward first base. Lee runs down the ball, gives it to the first baseman and then takes off for second base.
For the kids on the two Marysville Little League challenger teams teams formed for kids from kindergarten to high school with learning or physical disabilities baseball practice is more about having fun and learning teamwork than absorbing the rules and strategies that govern the leagues other teams.
Marysville formed its first challenger team, the Mustangs, three summers ago. Within a year, the team had some 25 kids attending games and practice, inspiring the formation of a second team, the Mavericks, said Marysville Mavericks manager Michelle Olson.
Practices and games are an informal affair, with players attending as family schedules permit. When they play against other teams in the Snohomish County area, its not uncommon for one team to lend players to a short-staffed opponent, said Olson.
In games, the teams go about two innings, Olson said, adding that they typically let every kid bat and run in an inning. They dont count strikes or balls, instead giving each player about six or seven swings.
It teaches them how to play on a team. The value of sportsmanship. And its fun to play, she added.
For Lizzy Reynolds and her dad Darrell, the team is a nice way to bond.
I watch sports a lot, the elder Reynolds said. She saw it on TV and said, Dad, I want to play baseball.
Parents like Lizzys are an active part of practice. About a half a dozen moms and dads stand in the outfield near their child and help the kids by stopping the ball, giving them gentle directions about what to do with the ball, cheering on the kids at bat and making sure everyone gets a chance to hit, run and field.
Like the rest of the Little League season, the official end date of the challenger season is not far away. But unlike many of the other teams, Olson said she and her husband, Mavericks coach Mitch Olson, intend to keep up the twice-weekly practices through the summer.
Their son, Sam, plays on the team as well.
Michelle said that for her and many other parents, its about enabling their children in a world that calls them disabled.
Ernie Mapanoos mom Lourdes said that not only has Ernie gotten better at the sport, but playing on the team has interested her son in participating in other sports.
After this, he was into swimming, Mapanoo said. Now he knows the mechanics of baseball. Before he was just a fan.