“Just to hit the ball, and touch 'em all, a moment in the sun.”
John Fogerty sang those words in his 1985 classic song “Centerfield,” and it represents the ageless joy of playing ball. South Carolina softball student-athletes have been helping to share that joy with a local team made up of children and adults with special needs each Thursday this fall.
“The team was all for it,” said South Carolina senior catcher Jordyn Augustus. “We were just so excited for the opportunity to give back to the community in a way that involved our sport. We do community service at Harvest Hope Food Bank and Transitions and help out at other places throughout the year, but this was something that was directly related to our sport. We just thought it would be really cool to teach them what we know. Being a student-athlete is really about using the foundation we’ve been given to impact our community.”
The Irmo/Chapin Recreation Commission’s Therapeutic baseball team for children and adults with special needs, known as the “Cardinals,” have partnered with area high school baseball and softball teams over the last three years.
“We reached out to the softball team and asked for them to come out for one night, and they said ‘no, let’s do the whole season,’” said Jordan O’Keefe, Therapeutic Recreation Coordinator for the Irmo/Chapin Recreation Commission. “They adopted our players as their buddies for the season. They have secret handshakes. They want to take them trick or treating. It’s just really special.”
“They originally asked us to come for one night, but we wanted to establish a relationship with these kids,” Augustus added. “We wanted to show that we cared, and that we’re interested in our community. We felt it would be better to create that relationship with the kids and the adults, so we wanted to come once per week.”
The softball team has gone above and beyond. They’ve formed a very special bond with our athletes.Jordan O’Keefe, Irmo/Chapin Recreation Commission
The Cardinals consist of 37 special needs athletes, with one group playing early in the evening made up youngsters ranging from elementary school to 15 years old, and the older group ranging from 16 to 30 years old playing afterwards. The Gamecocks along with community volunteers have been meeting at Seven Oaks Park in nearby Irmo, S.C.
“The first 45 minutes we’re with kids with special needs, and we buddy-up with someone,” Augustus said. “We’ll practice throwing and catching, and they’ll hit off a tee. Then you and your buddy just run to first base. Then when the next person hits it, you just run. You take turns hitting and playing in the field, so it’s like a scrimmage.
“The older group is a little more intense, and we’re able to compete a little bit more with them. Everyone has a buddy.”
The Gamecocks and Cardinals are meeting up on Thursday for the end of season party, and the program will resume again in the spring with participants playing soccer. Over the last several weeks the Cardinals and Gamecocks have developed a special relationship.
“It’s amazing,” O’Keefe said. “The softball team has gone above and beyond. They’ve formed a very special bond with our athletes. They have their own special buddy on the field when they meet up on Thursday nights. It’s pretty special to see. It means a lot to their parents and families, too.”
“For us to be out there giving them a good time, there’s no greater feeling than seeing the smiles on their faces,” Augustus said. “They see us and run up to give us these big hugs. They celebrate all of the small stuff, so it reminds us about what’s important in life. You can have a bad day, then you go do this, and you see they’re just so excited to foul-tip a ball. It’s the most amazing thing to see these kids just so happy regardless of their circumstances or whatever they have going on. It shows us there is always a way to be positive no matter what you have going on in your life.”
Cue up John Fogerty.
“Put me in coach, I'm ready to play today.”