ABO baseball league for the disabled is looking for coaches and players
Sometimes being a fan just isn't enough.
That's the case for Taylor Duncan. The 25-year-old says that as he was growing up, he faced obstacles in trying to play baseball, the game he loves, because he is autistic.
"I'd always been a big baseball fan, but because of my autism diagnosis, I was often not given the same opportunities as everyone else to participate in a traditional rule structure type league," Duncan told the News-Times. "So, with the help of my mother and teachers and other mentors, I have been able to get to where I am today with positive experiences that I've had playing America's pastime."
In 2016, Duncan founded what he calls the Alternative Baseball Organization. Its goal is to provide an authentic baseball experience for differently abled teenagers and adults, including those like Duncan who are on the autism spectrum.
To date, the organization has more than 70 teams in 12 states, with registration in Canada currently pending.
Duncan, who is originally from a small town in Georgia just outside Atlanta, is hoping to add Oregon to his list of participating states soon. The ABO is seeking volunteer coaches, players and player assistants to help start new programs serving Hillsboro and surrounding areas.
Unlike similar sports programs designed for the physically or mentally disabled, ABO teams travel to other areas, play on traditional-sized fields, and play using the same rule set as the major leaguers you see on television.
Additionally, the organization provides equipment and resources to help such a program become successful.
Duncan added that while he has tremendous respect for what the Special Olympics and similar programs do regarding athletics, their set parameters often leave people like himself on the outside looking in.
"Special Olympics does a great job, but I was denied opportunities to participate because I tested too high on the IQ test," Duncan said. "So, the entire spectrum is not being covered — rather, they're specializing in different segments.
"Which is good in itself, but it doesn't meet everybody's needs, unfortunately."
Bringing aspiring athletes together who have traditionally been excluded, or simply felt uncomfortable or unwelcome, in amateur sports has another purpose beyond just playing a game, Duncan believes. The Alternative Baseball Organization promotes the development and enrichment of players' physical and social skills, both on and off the diamond.
ABO players need only to be 15 or older; they can be of any experience to participate. Any fee to play is nominal, with players and coaches paying only their proportion for general liability insurance, plus a small annual contribution to keep the program solvent.
Teams typically play on high school fields. Players use wood bats and a slightly oversized ball, and — unlike some other specialized programs — they play independently in the field. Assistant coaches usually man the first and third baselines, but while verbally assisting defenders on plays when needed, if either coach physically touches a ball in play, the batter and baserunners are awarded two bases.
"We try to discourage helping players during the game," Duncan said, "because we want them to learn skills independently."
Teaching skills that go beyond the game is a big part of the ABO. Duncan said the organization teaches players how to deal with situations that transcend the game, including how to celebrate with good sportsmanship, as well as display that same sportsmanship in the midst of disappointment.
"It's important to learn how to deal with those types of things as one phases into their workforce, and their lives," Duncan said.
He believes baseball helps differently abled people learn those skills. Despite an expected level of discomfort in the beginning, Duncan says the structure of the ABO and how teams conduct the practices and games lends itself to a growing level of confidence — a confidence that extends beyond the boundaries of the ballfield and into everyday life.
"There are those who come in kind of anxious at first, because it's a new thing for them," he said, "but once they get out there and meet those just like themselves that are out there, they get acclimated, they get used to it and they develop those friendships."
Dependent on the league and coach, there can be — and usually are — multiple seasons throughout the year. Teams meet for practices or games approximately once per week for roughly an hour and a half.
Duncan says he is actively seeking coaching volunteers and players for a prospective Hillsboro-area team.
Forming a team in a new area is typically a six-month process, according to Duncan. Initially, while building a league of competitive teams, existing teams often play intra-squad scrimmages or compete against other amateurs playing just for fun — local firefighters, police officers or even government officials sometimes, Duncan suggested.
Duncan says his goal is simply to give people here in Washington County an opportunity, like the ABO has given to others across the country.
"As many with autism graduate from high school in many areas, services plateau," Duncan said. "In a lot of suburban and rural areas, there are no services for those to continue their path toward independence.
"As bad as it sounds, a lot of people are never heard from again — because no one is encouraging them to do anything in society, because they've always been told they can't. Our goal is to further help those with disabilities down that path, while enjoying a great game."
If you or someone you know is interested in participating as a coach or player in the Alternative Baseball Organization, you can find information and the necessary forms on its website at alternativebaseball.org.
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