Playing ball in the sunshine is a part of growing up in South Florida, but for those who have a disability, getting on the diamond can be a challenge.
The Sunshine Baseball League is a fun, noncompetitive, adaptive baseball league for individuals with special needs in Royal Palm Beach.
“We don’t keep score, standings or anything like that,” said Sheryl Sawyer, a program supervisor with the Royal Palm Beach Parks & Recreation Department.
Sawyer, who oversees the initiative, said the program has been around for approximately 20 years.
Registration is now open for the season getting underway next month. The deadline is Jan. 10, and the cost is $25 for Royal Palm Beach residents and $30 for nonresidents.
“The fee includes a uniform top,” Sawyer added.
The program is available to those five and older, including adults.
“We are willing to accommodate any disability,” she said.
The league will open for the season on Friday, Jan. 26 at 7 p.m. at Willows Park, and the games will be played every Friday for seven consecutive weeks.
Players are asked to register for the league along with a helper “buddy” at the Royal Palm Beach Recreation Center, located at 100 Sweet Bay Lane.
“We encourage siblings to participate because it gives parents a much-needed break,” Sawyer explained. “Parents who are caregivers to special-needs individuals rarely get an opportunity to relax from their responsibilities.”
She said that the league has had two teams over the past couple of years, with players coming from as far away as Lake Worth and Palm Beach Gardens. However, most of the participants come from the western communities.
“This is one of the few programs like this in the area,” Sawyer said.
To generate more participation, Sawyer has reached out to doctors’ offices and schools who have special-needs students in the area to help spread the word to families with a loved one who might want to participate in the league.
Sawyer doesn’t focus on the quantity of participants but, rather, on the quality of the experience that the players, their siblings, parents and volunteers have during the games.
“We are here to help the families with a special-needs child or adult,” Sawyer stressed.
On Saturday, Dec. 16, the Youth Baseball Association of Royal Palm Beach and the Village of Royal Palm Beach hosted the first “Home Runs Can Help” event at the Bob Marcello Baseball Complex to help raise money and awareness in the community about the Sunshine Baseball League.
The Healton family was instrumental in organizing the event that helped raise $650, which will go toward the league, Sawyer said.
Nick Healton, a senior baseball player at Seminole Ridge High School, was diagnosed with osteochrondritis dissecans, a joint disorder, when he was a freshman. He needed multiple surgeries on both of his elbows.
Doctors weren’t sure if Healton would be able to play baseball again, but rehabilitation and hard work got him back on the diamond. He recovered so well that he signed a letter of intent to play college baseball for Northwest Missouri State College after high school.
This coming season will be the third year that Healton has been a volunteer for the Sunshine Baseball League.
Also needed are compassionate volunteer coaches, including those who have community service hour requirements.
Every registered player in the league will be entered into a drawing to win a pair of Miami Marlins tickets at the Sunshine Baseball League awards ceremony on March 9.
Sawyer also thanked the sponsors of the league, which include the Tyler McLellan Foundation, the Asphalt Angels, Outback Steakhouse, Bru’s Room Sports Grill and the Village of Royal Palm Beach.
“We are always looking for additional sponsors to help defray costs,” she added.
For more information about the Sunshine Baseball League, call Sheryl Sawyer at the Royal Palm Beach Recreation Center at (561) 790-5124 or visit www.royalpalmbeach.com.