When John Salony managed recreation baseball teams, he was bothered that children in wheelchairs and children with disabilities were limited to spectating.
So, Salony recruited Dr. Jim Tolan, a psychiatrist who specializes in children, and they started a program called Champion Baseball to give physically challenged children an opportunity to play the sport.
Sponsored by the Reisterstown Recreation Council and financed the Oriole Advocates, Champion Baseball had nearly 80 kids this spring.
It runs from April to June and recently completed its sixth season. The league, which plays once a week at Reisterstown Elementary School, is open to boys and girls from the ages of 8 to 21, and is believed to be the second organization of its type in the United States.
"Progress is not measured here by home runs," Salony said. "It's measured by getting kids who are really bashful to take a swing at the plate. The measurement is seeing them have enough self-confidence to do that."
And Champion Baseball allows an easy adjustment for the kids.
If a kid has a problem hitting against a pitcher, the kid can use a tee. If there is a problem with hitting off a tee, a kick ball is provided.
For those kids who are visually impaired, Champion Baseball has a ball that sends off an auditory signal.
"The only criteria is that they want to be out on the field and are not a danger to anyone being out on the field," Dr. Tolan said. "Everything is based on the child's ability level."
No strikes or balls are called, and outs are nonexistent. Everyone bats in an inning, and everyone plays in the field.
"Originally what I thought was to have it like every other recreation program with umpires," Dr. Tolan said. "What we quickly found out was that the kids liked it this way."
The first few weeks are dedicated to clinics, giving the kids time to learn fundamentals, such as catching and throwing.
Champion Baseball also uses "buddies," who help and teach the kids throughout the games. Most of the coaches and helpers are family members, but the league encourages volunteers.
If you want more information on how to get involved or how to get into the program, write to John Salony, P.O. Box 475, Reisterstown, MD 21136 or call him at (410) 833-2693, Ext. 224.
;/ Dr. Tolan can be reached at (410) 526-6101.