The League of YES will host a showcase baseball game on Saturday, Oct. 27 from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. at Wellington’s Village Park. The event will allow children with disabilities to experience playing the game of baseball in a safe and supportive environment.
The League of YES — which stands for You Experience Success — was founded in 2015 by Kristine Fitzpatrick on Long Island in New York. Since its inception, it has grown to include more than 30 children in each of the leagues located in the New York area.
The League of YES describes itself as “a baseball program for individuals with special abilities.” Players of all ages and abilities are invited to play in a showcase game, in a relaxed, judgment-free zone. Everyone is assigned a buddy/volunteer and everyone gets to bat each inning.
Wellington resident Kris Riedell attended high school with Fitzpatrick in East Islip, N.Y. The two played softball together at East Islip High School, with Riedell playing third base and Fitzpatrick playing catcher.
Riedell’s eldest son Andrew is a senior at Cardinal Newman High School, where he is a pitcher on the baseball team. In 2015, Andrew and the Wellington Colts travel baseball team held an Autism Awareness Day event to support his younger brother, Bryan, who was being bullied for having autism.
Ever since the success of that event in 2015, Riedell has received encouragement from both her high school teammate Fitzpatrick and her son Andrew to start a League of YES program in South Florida.
“My oldest son wanted to start a league for the sport he loved — baseball,” Riedell said.
Riedell took the idea to Wellington Parks & Recreation Director Bruce DeLaney, who immediately gave his support and offered the use of a field at Village Park. Since that initial meeting, Village Planner Ryan Harding has gotten involved and been of immense support, according to Riedell. In addition to the use of the field, the village has produced promotional materials, such as handouts and fliers.
Currently, Riedell has signed up 14 children with special needs to participate in the showcase game, and she is currently looking to sign up additional players to bring the number to at least 20. The League of YES is also in need of volunteers to shadow each of the participants during the game.
“We’re looking for players to come out to play,” Riedell said. “We’re a grassroots organization relying on word of mouth from friends within the community.”
Among those friends that have supported the League of YES have been the numerous schools within Wellington that have helped recruit students to participate in the league.
“Local schools have been sending support,” Riedell said. “They’re getting the word out there.”
Lindburgers has stepped up as a corporate sponsor by purchasing hats and shirts for the players from Wellington’s own Scotty’s Sport Shop. Chick-fil-A and Kona Ice will also be sponsoring the showcase game, with Chick-fil-A providing a gift card to every player and buddy.
Riedell’s passion for the league stems from the experience with her son Bryan, who is on the autism spectrum and has Asperger syndrome. He is now a student at Wellington High School, where he is in the fire academy and the marching band.
“It’s a challenge to ensure that he has the same as everyone else in terms of opportunities,” Riedell said. “There have been challenges along the way. You have to do your own research. They wanted him to attend an inclusionary setting with other disabled students, but we kept him mainstreamed. Now he’s an honor student. He has beaten every single obstacle with a support system in the community.”
Riedell is hopeful that by being in the league, participating youth will not just improve their lives, but also their outlook on life.
“I want people with autism to be heard,” Riedell said. “We want to give people with disabilities the chance to love America’s pastime. We want to give them pride and show them that they can do everything everyone else can do. We want to develop those with disabilities to build confidence and overcome obstacles. And we want them to build cognitive skills and bond and create new friendships.”
If the first showcase game is successful, Riedell is optimistic that the village will continue its support through the use of its fields at venues, such as Village Park. Those wanting to participate in the game can register up until Friday, Oct. 26. The same deadline applies for those wishing to register as a volunteer/buddy.
The inaugural League of YES Florida showcase game will be held at Village Park at 11700 Pierson Road in Wellington. The event begins at 9 a.m. and will conclude at 1 p.m. For more information, contact Riedell at firstname.lastname@example.org or (631) 235-6906, or visit www.leagueofyes.com/loy-florida.