Take me out to the ball game Print
Fonder Ponders
Thursday, Sep. 10, 2015 -- 12:00 AM

Fonder Ponders column by Jackson Fonder

I love attending ball games. A beautiful summer day at the park; the smell of freshly cut grass and grilled hot dogs; and the competition playing to a cheering crowd.

But, this was no ordinary ball game that I was going to. I had looked forward to this afternoon for some time and couldn't wait to see "North Rock" take on their arch rivals from "South Rock" in the eighth year of their annual kickball showdown.

My wife and I arrived in Footville (population 808) for the game, just in time for us to grab a bite to eat and set up our lawn chairs.

fonders ponders picture
A boy kicks a ball with the help of a homemade contraption at the eighth annual kickball showdown held in Footville for participants in the Children’s Services program of Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Madison. (Contributed photo)

The Kickball Commissioner Darcy (more on her later) provided some opening comments and then a short, but touching, memorial for Max who, at age 20, passed away from Sanfilippo syndrome and had competed in the previous seven kickball events.

The mood quickly shifted into high gear when Elena, a 17-year-old girl with CHARGE syndrome (CHARGE syndrome is a genetic pattern of birth defects which occurs in about one in every 9-10,000 births worldwide; an extremely complex syndrome, involving extensive medical and physical difficulties that differ from child to child), got us started with a beautiful rendition of our National Anthem (she also sings for the Youth Opera Council of the Chicago Lyric Opera).

Extraordinary game

The players took the field and the game was underway. (As I've said, this was no ordinary game, but rather a particularly extraordinary game.)

They are all participants in the Children's Services program of Catholic Charities, ages ranging from three to 22. Some kids are in wheelchairs; others have cerebral palsy, seizure disorders, Down syndrome, muscular dystrophy, autism, varying cognitive abilities, and more.

These are usually the kids who get picked last in a neighborhood game of kickball; or worse, not picked at all. In fact, most of them attend games with their parents and watch their brother or sister play from the stands. No one cheers for them; no participating; and no trophies.

How it started

It was the summer of 2007 when Darcy, a Catholic Charities employee, was attending a baseball game with her son and talking to a friend in the stands who has a son in a wheelchair.

The conversation turned to his participation, or lack thereof, in sporting events. "Oh sure," she said, "I could sign him up for T-ball, but I would have to push him around the bases myself. I wish there was something for him to be involved with where I could just cheer him on and watch like all the other parents."

Darcy thought about it and then responded by saying, "Hey, how about if we did a kickball tournament?"

Eight years later, Darcy is still in charge of this event, but gets help from her husband, children, parents, and 50 to 60 volunteers (employees of Catholic Charities). The annual summer classic involves kids from North Rock County (Janesville, Evansville, Edgerton, and Milton) and South Rock County (Footville, Orfordville, Beloit, and Clinton).

Community effort

It's quite a community effort. The tournament is played at the elementary school in Footville. Best Events from Kandu donates the tents, tables, and chairs; MMPR (Marketing, Motivational, and Promotional Resources of Janesville) gives them a break on the T-shirts; and volunteers, who also help on the field, bring the food and drinks.

Some rule adjustments have been made so that everyone can enjoy the experience. Ian, a 17-year-old with Tetrasomy 18p (a developmental disorder that affects many parts of the body), likes to kick the ball and run directly to second base with his hands held up in the air high-fiving everyone in the field, while the crowd wildly cheers his every move.

Volunteers help those with physical limitations get around the bases. For kids who are unable to physically kick the ball, they've taken care of that, too. Darcy's husband crafted a homemade "thingamajig" that kicks the ball with the help of a giant arm (see photo).

Cheering is best part

Parents and family members of the kids are asked to take a seat and just cheer on the players. "Cheering is the best part of the game," says Darcy. You can feel the emotion in her voice when she goes on to say how her life is so wonderful with a "supportive family, great co-workers, and an organization like Catholic Charities that allows me to host this event."

The game was close, although I forgot who actually won. We all headed back toward the school where they served cake and presented medals to every one of the competitors. The smiles on the players' faces and the pride felt by attending family members were priceless. I was told that many of the kids wear their medals around the house all year long!

My wife and I talked about it all the way home. Just another great day at the ball park.

Jackson Fonder is president and CEO of Catholic Charities Madison. Catholic Charities helps nearly 30,000 people in need in the 11 counties of the Diocese of Madison. Visit www.ccmadison.org for more information on the 11 Parish Mobile Food Pantries held in partnership with Second Harvest Foodbank of Southern Wisconsin and the many other services for families and children.