Field of dreams
A baseball tradition builds friendship and understanding.
The Jenks baseball program will host its 10th year of Buddy Baseball this month. Students ages 7-18 with autism are paired with Jenks baseball players to practice batting, fielding and running. Pictured are students from the 2013 Buddy Baseball game.
On a fresh October afternoon, players, parents, coaches and fans gather at Hinch Field in Jenks. The crowd rises to sing the national anthem. Afterward, the Trojan mascot and cheer and pom squads energize the crowd. A student steps up to bat.
It sounds like a usual day of high school baseball, but according to Jenks Varsity Baseball Coach Dan Morgan, “It is the highlight of our fall season.”
This is Buddy Baseball.
Now in its 10th year, Buddy Baseball provides a sports experience for students on the autism spectrum. Students between ages 7 and 18 are paired with players from the Jenks baseball program who assist with batting, fielding and running.
The game originated with former Jenks baseball player Mike Sartin, who wanted to do a service project. He and his mom, Carol, helped start Buddy Baseball.
“It’s pretty remarkable,” Mike Sartin says. “It turned into something a lot bigger than we all expected.”
Jennifer Sollars-Miller is co-founder of The Autism Center of Tulsa and mom to Josh Miller, one of Buddy Baseball’s original players with autism.
“It’s the most awesome thing to cheer on your child,” Sollars-Miller says. “Buddy Baseball is the most typical experience we get to have as parents, and for my son, it’s kind of like a holiday.”
Before the game, Jenks players call their assigned buddy’s parents to learn the most effective ways to communicate and calm the student’s anxieties. In the process, players learn about autism.
“Jenks has given our kids the freedom to do what they need to do to have fun and be successful,” Sollars-Miller says. “After Buddy Baseball, these baseball players have built relationships with our kids and learned to interact with them. They can be a great example for other students.”
The game has turned out to be an example for other schools, as well. Sollars-Miller has shared event details with interested schools from Tulsa to Nebraska.
This year, Josh Miller will be on the field with his cousin, Grant Ketchel, a Jenks baseball player.
“It’s one of our favorite events of the year,” says Grant’s mom and Buddy Baseball Event Coordinator Jana Ketchel. “When they are playing baseball, my son’s friends and teammates are my nephew’s friends and teammates. That is a beautiful thing to see.”
“Baseball is an unforgiving game,” Morgan says. “You will fail more than you succeed. But that day, there are no failures. At Buddy Baseball, there is nothing but success.”
Oct. 25 — 10th annual Buddy Baseball game
3-5 p.m., Hinch Field, 823 N. Third St., Jenks. Free and open to the public. Visit www.jenksbaseball.org and click on the Buddy Baseball link.