My kids will never be professional athletes, and they likely won't win any awards at sports - as I write this, I have a giant welt/bruise combination on my arm from attempting to play catch with the Sainted Child - but they love being part of a team.
Sainted Child picked up softball a few years ago, but, with some patient coaching, she's come leaps and bounds. She can be a little clumsy - she gets it honest from her mother - but she's probably outgrown me as a catch partner, since I am down-right awful. Thank goodness for the Long Suffering Husband, who is tall enough to reach up and catch those high balls.
My son, the Little Professor, is high-functioning autistic, and it is especially important to him to be part of a team. Despite his shyness, he loves being around the coaches and other children, he loves being part of something bigger than himself. I write this, getting a little choked up, because I don't think the adults and kids associated with the team realize how important their simple acceptance is to the Professor and to us.
He no longer needs physical therapy, and we think he's made progress, but he has a long way to go. At one point, his father and I worried even amateur sports were too fast-paced for him, that he'd be unable to keep up at all. It was something we wrestled with and agonized over, because he loves baseball, but, most of all, he loves being part of a team. We didn't want to deny him that simple pleasure.
But being part of a team means responsibilities, too. It means being there; doing your best; focusing; and being accountable to your coaches and your team. We struggled with that this year, too. It's hard for him to concentrate and stay focused sometimes, and there are times when he becomes frustrated at his slow progress and how far ahead the other kids appear. He can get discouraged, and his play suffers.
But he loves baseball, and he loves being part of the team. He's willing to work to meet those obligations to his team and I'm starting to see the young man he will become. They say team sports are character-building, but, too many times, we see a darker side where the adults care more about the win than they do about teaching the kids a lesson they will take with them off the diamond.
That is why I am so grateful to Sainted Child's coach, Coach Pat, and the Professor's coach, Coach Jason, all of their assistant coaches and the parents who lend a hand. Being a coach is a lot of work: juggling players and parents, upkeep for the fields, volunteering in the concesssion stand, attending every practice and every game, and coaching children with a staggering variety of abilities and blind spots. It takes a lot of time, organization and commitment. Thank you for the time you've spent with our child. We are grateful, and I am sure we are not the only ones.
My son's league has a "draft" during which the coaches choose the children on their teams in an effort to balance the level of talent on each team and make each one competitive. Every year he's been a head coach, Coach Jason has chosen my son, even knowing the difficulties he faces.
I told him this.
"Coach Jason picked you," I said. "He wanted you on his team."
"He did?" The Little Professor's eyes got wide and his chest puffed out. "Really?"
"Yeah, really, what did you think that was, when they had you throw and bat for the coaches?"
He had a little extra swagger the rest of the day. "I'm going to try hard, Momma," he told me.
So thank you. Thank you for the time you've spent, for dedicating yourself to helping our children and for lessons you've taught them.
But most of all, thank you for making them feel like they belong.
(Wallace-Minger, The Weirton Daily Times community editor, is a Weirton resident and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)