AMARILLO (KAMR / KCIT) — A few years ago, occupational therapists at the Turn Center and others recognized a need in our community for sports teams that could accommodate all different levels of ability. Now, track, basketball, bowling, soccer, track, and even softball are available for all kids in Amarillo through a partnership with Kids Inc. “Kids Inclusion” provides opportunities for kids with disabilities to play sports and get to interact with their neurotypical peers.
Turn Center Occupational Therapist Haley Benner explains “We kind of wanted to create this environment where we could focus on sports skills and get kids out in the community, but then also foster and build some relationships between typical peers and their atypical peers. So really, the whole idea was we want kids with disabilities without disabilities playing sports together in a safe environment that lets them learn but also kind of build some awareness and start some friendships.”
Friendships are built with kids their age, and with the coaches and volunteers who help make the league happen.
Coach Lauren Grace Olivarez said, “I think they have a lot more to teach us than we have to teach them. They are so cool and unique in their own ways that you’re not going to see in your everyday average person and it just made a huge impact just especially to be kind to everybody because you never know their story.”
One story of the more than 80 kids who are playing in the league, is that of Sagan Stout–@Saganstrongtx as he is known online. Sagan has Pit Hopkins Syndrome, and his literal strides inspire his parents every day.
Sagen’s dad, Brett Stout said, “It was so far out of our minds that now have been out here doing it. It’s a really a big surprise. I mean, it’s, it’s really kind of a gift to us.”
Pit Hopkins is a rare genetic disorder that affects development, speech, and much more. Sagan worked for a long time to learn to crawl, now, with a little help, he is running the bases with his friends.
His journey inspired coach Olivarez to pursue working with special-needs kids–and inspired the former player and dancer to try coaching a new sport–Kids Inclusion softball.
“In November of 2019, I watched his physical therapy and fell in love with who he was and what those therapists had to do with him. And I knew from that get-go that I really wanted to be involved in pediatrics, especially with special needs kids” Olivarez said.
Inspiration led to ingenuity, new tools are used to make sure everyone can play as independently as possible. It was a concept that was new to Sagen’s mom, Hannah Stout.
“I was kind of like, at first, I was very like, why? Like, you can’t swing a bat. You can’t catch a ball. You can’t throw the ball. I don’t know why you didn’t have it. They were like, just come out and try it and see it. And I think I was immediately blown away. They have thought of absolutely everything” Hannah said.
Sagan and others on his team bat using a low-tech switchback bat stand. Benner explains, “Since they can’t hold a bat and swing it, they stand next to it. Amanda, my partner’s, husband made it, so they just hit a block and it unlocks the bat and it swings and knocks it off the tee.”
That ingenuity provides Sagan’s parents a dream come true that they had all but given up on ever seeing.
“Brett played baseball when he was young and so Sagan had his own baseball bat before he was even born,” Hannah said, “I think when we got our diagnosis, we kind of that was a dream that kind of died for us a little bit, we knew that he would probably never get to do a lot of the things that we thought he would do.”
For Sagen and his teammates, the Kids Inclusion league has knocked it out of the park.
Kids Inclusion’s next sport is basketball, which starts in June.
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