"Early this month, eight representatives from the Indiana Adult Baseball League, decked out in full uniforms, traveled to Bradford Woods outside Martinsville to put on a baseball clinic for the kids at Camp Riley, a residential summer camp for children with physical disabilities. It was the second year that the IABL had put on the clinic.
Camp Riley strives to make all physical activities — swimming, horseback riding, climbing — commonly associated with summer camp accessible to their campers.
“This is a time where they can come out here and do activities that they might not be able to do on a regular basis,” said camp coordinator Becky Phillips. “They get to come to camp and spend the summer with campers of their own abilities.”
Eric Mertl helped organize the clinic for the league, which has had a relationship (either raising funds or conducting clinics) with Camp Riley since 2003. Walking into the campground, Mertl, who also attended last year’s clinic, was braced for excitement.
“Check out the reaction when we turn this corner,” he said. “The kids get really excited. That’s what makes this so much fun.”
On cue, the kids reacted with cheers as the players emerged into a wooded courtyard from between two buildings. Counselors led them in a rousing version of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” before the campers broke into smaller groups, with one player assigned to each group.
According to program director Laura Walsh, variety is the key to accessibility. A wide variety of bats and balls, all of different weights and sizes, were made available to the campers. Hula hoops, laid flat on the ground, served as bases.
“This is a great day,” said Walsh, who spent much of the clinic passing out Cracker Jacks. “It gives the campers a chance to have a traditional experience without feeling different. I think baseball is about as summer as it gets. To have baseball players come out to the camp and … play with them, helps them have a great day at camp.”
One player, James Sarabyn, brought his wife, Kim, and their children, Matthew, 12, and Abigail, 9. Matthew, decked out in a Brownsburg little league uniform, was helping his dad throw batting practice to a group of campers as his sister and mom looked on.
“We are having a great time,” said Kim Sarabyn. “We thought it would be a good experience for the kids to see how other children spend their summer. We thought it would be a great experience and hopefully enlighten them to expand themselves.”
Alexis Allen, an 11-year-old camper, thought the best part of the day was hanging out with the baseball players, but when asked to compare the day to a recent visit a group of monster trucks made to the camp, she was decidedly diplomatic. “Oh,” she said after a careful pause, “they are about the same.”