First Posted: 10/6/2014
Saturday’s Victory Sports Picnic at Frances Slocum State Park provided much more than an opportunity for adults with special needs to gather with their families for a time of food and fellowship. It was a celebration of the spirit of determination that brings its players back week after week, to run the bases, to shoot for the hoop and to spend time with friends.
The Victory Sports League was organized in 2011 in response to the need for young adults with mental and physical challenges to be involved in sports – not the type of sports that meant keeping careful score or following every rule, but that insured that every young adult would get an opportunity to participate, to be active and, always, to feel good about themselves.
Fred DeSanto, president of the league’s board of directors, couldn’t have been happier with the day’s turnout. Despite threatening skies and a bit of a chill in the air, more than 50 program participants and their family members gathered under a park pavilion. Amidst a back drop of the beautiful lake surrounded by autumn leaves, attendees were able to play board games, go on two guided hikes and simply throw around a football.
“I love the program because it gives me an opportunity to play baseball and to make new friends,” said Christina Wesley.
Wesley, originally a member of Challenger Little League, was among the adult league’s first members.
“Not only do our players play baseball, they do so in full uniforms provided for them,” said DeSanto. “And there is never any cost to the players.”
Two teams: the “Yankees” and the “Phillies” step to the plate once a week throughout the season, donning those uniforms with a renewed sense of self-esteem and confidence. Many also look forward to the pizza and ice cream provided following the games.
“As soon as one season is over, the kids start asking when the next season is going to start,” said board member Sandy Wazeter.
Her son, Gerard 24, is looking forward to the start of basketball season, which many participants of the program know begins on Dec. 3.
Although the league focuses on sporting activities and recreation, it does not neglect the opportunity to provide a bit of socialization for its members
“The Valentine’s Day Dance is one of our most popular events, providing a chance for attendees to get dressed up and have a real night out,” said DeSanto.
He credits the board of directors, volunteers and, especially parents, with making ideas become realities.
“The parents are totally cooperative and positive,” he said. “We can always count on them to do their part.
He said Patty Slempa and Karen Hughes put the picnic together in a short period of time, soliciting donations of food and organizing contributions from parents.
“The food was my favorite part!” said Juan Ramos.
Billy Stoss seemed to embody the spirit of cooperation and camaraderie the league represents. When asked what sport he likes the best, he said, “Whatever sport they ask me to play.”