One Midlands sports team is currently undefeated, and they’re not just capturing wins, they’re capturing hearts.
With every pitch and swing, the Cardinals baseball team comes to life.
“Our goal is to create memorable, inclusive experiences for our athletes and their families. The community support for this team has been heartwarming,” says Jordan O’Keefe, Therapeutic Recreation Director.
The team is in its third season and has partnered up with such teams as Irmo High School baseball, Lexington High School baseball, and the University of South Carolina Softball and Baseball teams.
In October, Irmo High School baseball coach Bruce White extended an invitation for the Cardinals to play at Sligh Stadium. The team hosted a night of music, pictures and autographs, and memorable fun for the Cardinal players. For Charley Krawczyk, the opportunity to see his son play baseball was a surprise. “Sports in general are very competitive and for a special needs child it is difficult, if not impossible, to find a place to play. The Cardinals have such a laid back environment and it allows Chase to just have fun hitting the ball and running the bases. He especially liked playing with all the boys from the Irmo High School team and hearing his name over the loudspeaker.”
This season, the Cardinals have 37 special needs athletes and families coming together for an amazing season. Several of the families have played with Therapeutic Recreation baseball since its start in 2015. Sharon Summers, who drives from Lexington each week so her son can play baseball, appreciates the opportunity for her son to play alongside his peers. “Watching Christian play baseball and soccer is amazing! The smile on his face is priceless when he sees his friends on the field. The high fives, the constant cheering for each other and the interaction between players, coaches and volunteers are simply amazing. We started baseball and soccer last year with Therapeutic Recreation and Christian’s determination and enjoyment of the atmosphere is wonderful. He has opened up so much in the last year with new friendships and great memories.”
The Cardinals team operates on a “buddy system” of play. Along with scheduled teams, several high school volunteers in Lexington/ Richland School District Five come out to Seven Oaks Park every Tuesday and Thursday to volunteer with this exciting team. Jordyn Augustus, the USC Softball captain, has committed herself and her teammates to playing with the Cardinals every Thursday through the end of the season. “Our athletes have formed close bonds with the Gamecock softball team. Several of these ladies have created fun handshakes and little games that they play with the athletes each week. It’s pretty special to see,” said Jordan O’Keefe, the Therapeutic Recreation Director for ICRC.
For families who never thought they would see their children play sports, they are thrilled for the opportunity of a typical athletic experience alongside equally excited parents and siblings.
“We are from Newberry and I have been looking for something like this for Ja’bari for a while and finally we found the Therapeutic Recreation program! When I see Jabari play baseball it makes me feel warm and happy inside that he can finally be himself, by running around, doing his loud laugh, and jumping around with no one judging him or staring and wondering what’s wrong him. He will be joining again next year. He loves this team. Best thing ever for these children,” says Carisha Kinars, parent of Jabari Grant.
Two games remain this season. On October 19th, the Cardinals play Irmo High School baseball, University of South Carolina Softball, and the Carolina Rebels 13u baseball team. On October 24, the Cardinals are up against Lexington High School softball and The Autism Academy of South Carolina. All games will be played at Seven Oaks Park.
While the season isn’t over, our athletes are already looking ahead to spring sports. Crooked Creek Park and Seven Oaks Park will offer spring soccer for all ages and abilities in March 2018.
To learn more about the Therapeutic Recreation program, contact Jordan O’Keefe at 803-213-1194 or [email protected]