LUMBERTON — Despite the inevitable struggles of raising a child with special needs, the parents and grandparents watching their children and grandchildren play T-ball at Tanglewood Elementary School on Saturday remain undefeated.
Such as LaRachel McLean, whose grandsons, Joshua and Jonathan Arnett, play in the outfield. LaRachel said that she, like her grandchildren who have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, which causes inattention, knows how it feels to be different.
“I was in special classes,” LaRachel said, “so I know what it was like to be deprived. I couldn’t comprehend like other kids and it made me feel sad and I couldn’t understand why. There was nothing like this for us.”
The new league, which is yet unnamed, was started in June by David Hester, whose son D.J. — short for David Jr. — was born premature and has cerebral palsy, a disease that can affect movement, learning, hearing, seeing and thinking.
D.J., who suffers with seizures, needs to stay in a wheelchair.
Hester started the T-ball league, which is free to join, at Tanglewood Elementary School as a place for parents to bring their children for an hour-long game each Saturday at 9 a.m.
As he helped D.J. in the field, his son’s eyes widened with excitement as D.J. recognized the ball. Kids and parents chanted encouragement from the outfield: “D.J., you can do it. Put a little power to it.”
“I get tickled pink over these kids,” LaRachel said from the sidelines. “It gives these kids a sense of belonging because they used to ask why they couldn’t play football or baseball.”
LaRachel said her grandchildren, who learned how to play by throwing and catching in the backyard with her husband and their grandfather Lee, start asking about Saturday’s T-ball game as early as Monday.
And their favorite part of the game?
“I like it when people pass the ball,” Joshua said.
Getting children with special needs excited about participating on a team, and taking them off the stands and placing them on the field, is exactly what Hester wants. He recalls watching D.J. lament at not being able to play sports with other members of his family.
“He used to watch them play baseball and wonder why he couldn’t play along,” Hester said. “Now they watch him.”
Despite the 20 parents and children who gathered for the game, there are not enough participants yet to form two teams — the ultimate goal of the league, which will meet again Saturday and is considering extending the games into October.
“What we want is to get people interested, talking to the early childhood education teachers at their school,” Hester said. “We want more members — whether in this county or in another county — so that in the spring, we’ll have enough for two teams. And when regular T-ball starts, we can start too.”
Right now, there are just enough people to help the children at the plate and in the field for a mock-game.
“We would like to get youth groups and volunteers to come out,” Hester said, “so that the parents can sit back and watch their child play, like the parents of a typically-developing child.”
Eight-year-old Makayla Marshall, who is capable enough to play without the help of her mother, Carol Richardson, stood on base in the outfield. Richardson relished the site of her young daughter participating on a team.
“Makayla having special needs makes it difficult putting her in traditional softball because she’s not understanding,” Richardson said. “To see your child unable to comprehend is difficult as a parent. Now I’m elated. Now my child is doing normal activities and enjoying herself.”
As Hester helped D.J. to bat, young D.J. answered the chants of encouragement by hitting the ball off the tee. The crowd cheered and Hester helped his son into the walker as they began the run to first base.
“I swear,” LaRachel said with a laugh, “one day D.J. is gonna’ take off right outta’ there.”