All for one and one for all in All Ball
Sara Reid — Special to the Weakley County Pres
This past year, Martin All Ball, a league created for special needs athletes, celebrated its first season in the area. The league, set up for ages 4-18, came about from the ideas and efforts of several local citizens who had observed similar leagues in other areas of the state and had the desire to set up a league in Weakley County.
“We sort of copied it from a league in Clarksville called Buddy Ball,” Stacey Ussery, director of All Ball, admitted. “They had the idea at a travel tournament. Mike Harrelson, Laura Plunk and my husband helped with this. We really wanted to do something like Buddy Ball for this area.”
Registration began in February and ran through March with phone interviews conducted. A skills clinic was held in April and play began in May. Thirty-seven athletes signed up to participate and four teams were formed with older children playing on Monday nights and younger children playing on Tuesday nights.
From the get-go, Ussery never needed to request help. It rushed in from the moment the league took shape.
“We have volunteers from the Martin Middle School Panthers softball team and the Westview softball team as well as from outside the schools,” Ussery explained. “Chris (Bowman) found out about the league from a poster. Laura (Plunk) is as special education teacher in Sharon. I work at Martin Middle. Laura was really the one who had the follow through. When we put the idea together, we knew we’d get the volunteers, but we were worried about money. We didn’t have to worry for long. People called us.”
Sponsors jumped at the chance to help including Ferry-Morse Seed Company, Martin Medical Rentals, Wholesale Unlimited, the Brawley family, McTee’s, Christie’s Photography, the Kiwanis Club and Wal-Mart. Several individuals made donations as well. Martin Parks and Recreation lined up the fields and the girls softball league took All Ball “under its wing,” helped to coordinate the games and with Martin Parks and Recreation, provided free drinks to the players.
From these monetary awards came even larger rewards — the positive effect the league had on its volunteers, coaches and players during its first year.
“I saw a show on HBO about a handicap league and walked to then police chief J.D. Sanders about getting one here,” Bowman said. “Lexington has one so I talked to their chief about getting one here. They got in touch with parks and rec, I told Stacey and we got one here. I love it. It’s a wonderful thing. I grew up with cerebral palsy and it was hard to play with other kids. This league has no outs, no runs and everyone can bat. The smaller kids hit off a tee. Both groups use a really soft ball and the younger kids don’t have to have gloves. We have some kids who are blind and we use a beeping ball for them.”
Several Martin Middle School softball players were drawn to helping out with All Ball.
“I heard about the Panthers doing it and I volunteered,” Erin Bell, a sixth-grader at MMS, explained. “I was assigned a person to help and I stay up with them when they bat and help them come around the bases.”
“There are about 15 volunteers from the softball team and school who come to help,” Elizabeth Plunk, a seventh-grader and daughter to Laura Plunk, added.
“I have a cousin with special needs and I enjoy helping a girl in All Ball who has the same special need,” Rebecca Ussery, a seventh-grader and daughter to Stacey Ussery, said.
As 6 p.m. approaches and players are filing in and preparing for the game, a pair of identical twins comes up to the sign-in table to collect their positions for the upcoming game.
Keanon and Kyle Dill, six-year-olds from Huntingdon, attend the West Tennessee School for the Deaf in Jackson. Both deaf and legally blind, they became involved in the league when their mother, Staci, saw a bulletin posted in the hallway of the school.
For Keanon and Kyle, who are two of just four people who have the most severe sight and hearing problems statewide, All Ball proved to be a very important way to gain interaction with others.
“They’ve had to be isolated in their own classroom. This has given them the opportunity to interact with other kids they wouldn’t normally get to be around,” Staci Dill said. “This is a wonderful thing for people with special needs. They have a cousin 12 days older than they are who plays ball. I have a brother who plays ball. It’s so nice for the twins to be involved in this so they don’t feel isolated.”
“The kids are having a blast. The people have been awesome and supportive,” Ussery stressed. “We had a kid with no legs and he got new legs with softballs on them.”
As the game begins and each and every batter hits the ball and rounds all the bases and the audience cheers, Bowman’s words seem to be played out in front of all to see.
“All Ball helps the whole family. It brings a smile to the faces of the players and the moms and dads and grandparents,” he said. “I’ll be here next year when we have this again. I feel like this is my mission and the Lord wants me to do this.”
The importance of winning is replaced by the importance of trying and succeeding no matter the odds. And everyone is a player of the game.
To find out more information about Martin All Ball, log on to www.martinallball.com