Opportunity League ends second season

Published 11:49 am Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Pelham Parks and Recreation Director Billy Crandall sings Happy Birthday to Madeline Seales, of Maylene, during the Opportunity League closing ceremonies on May 18 in Pelham. (Reporter Photo/Jon Goering)

By NEAL WAGNER / City Editor

When Easter Seals of Birmingham Director of Marketing and Development Kelli Keith saw several players take the field for the second year through the organization’s Opportunity League, she could immediately tell a difference.

Kids who last year were rolling baseballs to their teammates or struggling to hit balls off tees were beginning to throw overhand and easily smash line drives into the outfield.

The Opportunity League, a baseball league organized by Easter Seals for special-needs children, wrapped up its second year in Pelham May 17. During the closing ceremony, all 32 league participants received trophies and enjoyed food from Texas Roadhouse.

The league fielded the same number of participants this year as it did last year, which meant many who participated in the league’s inaugural season in 2010 returned for a second season on the diamond, Keith said.

This year also drew about 50 volunteers, many of whom served as “buddies,” and assisted players with fielding, batting and running.

Because the first year served to lay a foundation for many children who previously never had a chance to play in a baseball league, this year helped solidify the players’ skills, Keith said.

“I think the most noticeable thing was that the kids who came back this year for a second season were really increasing their skills in baseball,” Keith said, noting the league played all of its games on Saturdays at Pelham’s Fungo Holler Park. “We all worked with them on throwing, catching and batting, and we really saw a huge difference between last year and this year.”

This year also drew many new players to the league, who showed much improvement from the beginning of the season to the end, Keith said.

“We want the kids to have a good time, but we also want to help them pick up a skill,” Keith said. “It’s fun for us to watch them and see them improve each game.”

For many of the league’s participants, improving their baseball skills helps them to become more independent and improve their social skills, Keith said.

“For a lot of parents, something they need is for their kids to be as independent as possible,” she said.

Because this year matched the success of the league’s inaugural year, Easter Seals and the Pelham Parks and Recreation Department have already agreed to continue the program next year.

“This season was great,” Keith said. “I think it is something we will keep doing as long as we have kids who are interested.”