The ETHS “helpers” coach, practice with, and cheer for Buddy Ball players during their Sunday games. Photo by Jamie Donohue

It is every young boy’s dream to play baseball; unfortunately, some find it harder than others to follow this dream due to impending physical or intellectual disabilities. As a solution, The Evanston Baseball and Softball Association (EBSA) adopted the Buddy Ball program, which allows kids ages 5 to 20 with physical or intellectual disabilities to play baseball games with real coaches, uniforms, and fields. The program also includes “helpers,” or freshman baseball players from Evanston Township High school who devote their Sunday afternoons to playing in the games.

“I was with EBSA for several years, and in doing some research on the league fees, I discovered that some of the other towns around Chicago have Buddy Ball, and it seemed like something we should try to start, so we did,” says Mike Hamann, the team’s coach. His son is one of the helpers.

Jana Westover, one of the organizers of the program in Evanston, explained that she and her son had to travel to Buffalo Grove for games before Evanston got involved with Buddy Ball, adding that “they’ve been doing it there for about 25 years. I finally got the email saying that pretty soon we were starting [Buddy Ball], and we were thrilled.”

Buddy Ball is not only active in Illinois; the program exists nationwide, with its base located in Clarksville, Tenn. Several other sports and events are sponsored by the program besides baseball, including basketball, karaoke, and “prom” dances, all of which focus on the incorporation and inclusion of those in their communities with physical or intellectual disabilities. Mr. Hamann mentions the support EBSA and the City of Evanston have given the team over the course of their five seasons, such as providing the kids with uniforms and prepped fields.

“A couple of the kids out there have siblings that play, and so they get fired up for [the games]. I know my son sees some of the high school players in the hall and they get really excited, saying things like “See you at Buddy Ball.” I think they like to compete,” says Mr. Hamann. Ms. Westover adds, “For these kids, it’s really an opportunity to play.”

The program in Evanston has grown over the last five years, with new members added to the team each season. “I think we have about four or five new kids this year, and they’re all younger, which is a treat. We love seeing it,” says Ms. Westover. The youngest on the team this season is 5 years old, while a couple others recently graduated from ETHS.

Buddy Ball games are scheduled for 2 p.m. on Sundays at the James Park baseball fields. While the season usually starts in August, Mr. Hamann said that they moved it up this year to the end of May, June, and into July “in an attempt to get more kids out there. We plan to do it as long as they keep coming out.”

More about the Buddy Ball program in Evanston is available at http://www.evanstonbaseball.com/?footer=buddy-baseball.