The number of participants may have been lower than a typical year at Maryland School for the Blind’s Camp Abilities, but the enthusiasm was high during the week of June 21 through June 25.
“Usually, we have about 30-35 campers and we have a variety of coaches that come out and help the athletes,” said Tim Taylor, an adapted health and physical education teacher. “This year we did a smaller group, technically, we had nine campers, but we opened it up to 15 and we had a couple drop out here and there for various reasons.”
The campers ranged in age from 12 to 17 and, after the camp was canceled last year because of the pandemic, they were ready for fun and activities.
“They were just so excited when they came in, they were already jumping off the walls,” Taylor said. “After the first hour, they were just like, ‘This is great.’ They were talking about how they have been on the computer for a year and a half and getting outside in person playing with friends and making new friends is something they were definitely ecstatic for.”
Camp Abilities has served students from Maryland, Washington D.C. and Virginia for the past eight years and is the only overnight sports camp in the area for blind or visually impaired students.
“It’s a blind sports camp for youth to develop their sports skills in multiple sports and blind sports as well,” Taylor said. “We do morning sessions where we have three sports that we offer and in the afternoon we do another three sessions of different sports and at night we have some evening activities where we get them to do other activities that involve athletics or some type of movement.”
Included among the sports and activities were beep baseball, lacrosse, soccer, track and field, goalball, disc-golf, hockey, crafts and the traditional camp fires.
On the first evening, Marty Delaney, of Parkville Adapted Lacrosse, joined the camp to help participants gain lacrosse experience in a safe and fun environment.
League of Dreams founder and president Frank Kolarek as well as former Oriole and Chairman of the Board Mike Bordick came the next morning for more than two hours and taught the campers beep ball.
Rain forced the instructional learning into the gymnasium, but that didn’t dampen the enthusiasm.
“It [beep baseball] is a fascinating version of baseball and these children that have all sorts of visual challenges really work hard, learn the game and they are just tremendous and their enthusiasm is certainly like any other kids,” said Kolarek, whose son Adam, a 2007 Catonsville High graduate, pitched in relief for the 2020 World Series champion Los Angeles Dodgers last year.
Kolarek was introduced to beep ball six years ago when League of Dreams started coming to Camp Abilities.
“We set it up like we do with our League of Dreams events where we have instructional clinics, so they will go through the skills of fielding and hitting off the tee and some live pitching,” he said.
What makes beep baseball unique and fun is the oversized ball and rhythmic beeping sound.
“It’s a ball that has an electronic device in it and you pull the pin and the beeping sound happens and they track it and they hit the ball that way,” Kolarek said.
When Kolarek has larger groups, like he has in the past at Camp Abilities, he usually brings volunteer players from local teams like UMBC or the Baltimore Redbirds to help with instruction.
“We have our volunteer kids work with kids from the Maryland School for the Blind and they would put on a blindfold themselves and try to do it,” Kolarek said. “It’s like a living classroom.”
In addition to Bordick this year, Bordick’s son, Wyatt, a rising senior at Friends School, and Nick Jones, a representative of the Orioles Community Outreach Program, were there.
Taylor has certainly been impressed by the level of instruction through the years.
“They teach how to throw, catch, hit, run, all that stuff in baseball and it is really a great time,” he said.
After spending a morning at the camp, Kolarek had nothing but praise for the event and the people involved from the Maryland School for the Blind.
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“I just love them and I love what they stand for,” he said. “I love the people that are all around, the leadership and it’s just a wonderful group to work with.”