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by Tim Covey
If you coach travel softball, it’s a good chance you are volunteering your time. Or at least very close to volunteering. This is the case with a very high percentage of the Softball Coach Online newsletter subscribers.
Every once in a while, I receive a notification from a subscriber that falls outside the “norm” of the typical high school or travel ball coach that subscribes to our content.
Today I want to share about a very unique type of volunteer softball coaching that you might not have anywhere on your “radar.”
A few months back I received an email subscriber notification from Bill Fields, and it caught my attention. So I reached out and Bill agreed to give me some information about the coaching that he has been doing for many years.
Like many of us, he got “hooked” into coaching to help one of his own children. And he has been doing it ever since.
Keep reading to learn about this very cool program, and how you might be able to get involved. Here are the questions that I asked Bill and the responses he gave:
Tim: “Can you give me a brief description of the special olympics softball program? Who plays, how often, and where are the games held?”
Bill: “ Special Olympics offers Slow Pitch softball programs for children, young adults, and older adults with Intellectual Disabilities. Our program, NORTHWEST TUCSON, currently fields 3 teams with players of differing abilities.
Two of our teams are made up of low to medium level athletes and one team is a group of athletes that play at a very high level. We have two seasons, Spring and Winter.
The spring league is made up of anyone who wants to play. We form teams made up of all levels and abilities. Loose interpretation of the rules are used to that everyone has an opportunity to participate. Many of the older, higher level players will participate as coaches. This makes it a lot of fun!
Our "competitive teams" play in the fall. Eight weeks of practice leads up to the Regional and State tournaments”
Tim: “How did you get involved in the program as a coach? What "drew" you to it?”
Bill: “In 1980 my son Matt was born with a developmental disability. My older son and daughter had both played in organized sports and I always believed that youth athletics was such a positive experience for kids and families.
My daughter played softball and I loved the atmosphere around the park. The snack bar, the younger siblings racing around, the whole family atmosphere and of course there was the game. I missed this experience with my son and was envious of the parents who had the opportunity .
Then one Sunday while reading the sports page there was a small column in the paper announcing that Little League Baseball was starting a program for kids with disabilities…Challenger Little League! That was it! We joined and the rest is the story of my life … I have been coaching now for 28 years in Both Challenger Little League and Special Olympics Softball.”
Tim: “How long have you been coaching the team?”
Bill: “Challenger LL for about 15 years and then as my son aged out of the program I started a Special Olympic program for those who wished to continue to play. So about 25 years in all.
Our Challenger Little League program grew to the become the largest program in the world at one time to almost 200 players. There were about 135 players in our Challenger Program last year and 45 in the Special Olympics program.
Tim: “What has been the most rewarding part of the "journey" for you?”
Bill: “Being able to share this journey with my son. What do they say……Priceless”
Tim: “What has been the biggest thrill for your teams over the years (big games, etc.)”
Bill: “There have been 3 BIG GAME experiences:
The first year we decided to raise money and travel across the country to participate in the world’s largest challenger Little League Jamboree. I believe they had 1000 kids with disabilities participate. This really opened my eyes to what was available to these kids, what they were missing out on, and how capable they were. We were the first team from the Western US to participate. Most of the participants were 16-20 years old. We flew from Tucson to Washington DC.
I had goosebumps when we boarded that plane.
All the kids in their red Tucson Little League shirts looked great. I was very proud of them. That trip included tours of Washington DC and visits with our congressman. I remember on the return flight sitting in front of a young girl that was about 14 years old and a friend of hers. She was doing all the talking with her friend listening attentively about all the things she had done.
I still see her every Wednesday, she now plays softball.
In 2002 we were invited to play in Williamsburg Pa, at the Little League World Series in a Challenger Exhibition game. The Little League World Series is the greatest sporting event I have ever been to. If you have a chance don’t miss it.
The third BIG GAME was being invited to the Special Olympics National Softball Tournament in Oklahoma City. I believe this was in 2014. This was a very special team made up of many of the players that played Challenger who were now in their 20's and 30's. They all played the game at a very high level and we won a Gold Medal in our division.
Most of those players are still on my current team. In 2015 Arizona was chosen to send a softball team to the Special Olympics World Games in Los Angeles. Seven of the fifteen players from around the state were chosen from our team. I only say this because of how proud I am of these young men and what they have accomplished.
And lastly next year (2018) the Special Olympics National Games will be played in Seattle . This will bring all the Special Olympics sports together from around the US for the US National Games.
Our guys and one young lady from our program have been chosen to represent Arizona. I have also been selected to serve as a coach on the team. I am very honored and excited.
Tim: "How can an interested coach get involved? Where can one look to start their own team?"
Bill: "Everyone in Special Olympics is a volunteer. Contact a program in your area and sign up."
Tim: "What else would you want others to know about the Special Olympics and coaching softball in this type of program?"
Bill: "That it is extremely rewarding. The athletes are inspiring. They work extremely hard and the joy on their faces never goes away. Special Olympics often uses the tag line “Training For Life." Coaching these athletes allows you go beyond winning and losing to actually teaching lessons that directly impact their daily lives. Lessons that most of us take for granted and are not always taught on the field.
And that is the end of my interview with Bill. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did!
As is very evident, Bill is incredibly passionate about Special Olympics softball. The value of this program and how it impacts the lives of others truly permeates through the way he describes the program and his experiences.
Hopefully it does that for you too!
If you would like more information on how to get involved with Special Olympics go to www.specialolympics.org.
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by Mark Ritchhart
by Tim Covey