PORTSMOUTH Those with disabilities will soon have a new baseball team they can join to continue playing the sport even after they age out of Challenger leagues.
Taylor Duncan, who is diagnosed with autism, is the commissioner/director of the Alternative Baseball Organization, a 501c3 authentic baseball experience for teens 15 years and older. The organization is for people with autism and other disabilities to gain social and physical skills for success in life on and off the diamond. Despite the pandemic, recruitment for 2021 has begun virtually. The organization is looking for a volunteer coach/manager, volunteers, and players to help start new programs serving those in Portsmouth and the surrounding area.
“We are different from other programs in that teams travel to other areas, play on traditional high school size fields, and play using the same rule-set as the pros on television,” Duncan said. “The organization provides equipment and resources to help such a program become successful.”
Duncan explained when he was much younger, he had speech issues, anxiety issues, and more that came with having autism. He shared he wasn’t able to participate in competitive sports due to the developmental delays, in addition to social stigma from those who think what one with autism can and cannot accomplish.
“With the help of my mom, teachers, mentors, and coaches who believed in me, I’ve gotten to where I am today in my life: To live with the goal to inspire, raise awareness, and acceptance for autism and special needs globally through the sport of baseball,” Duncan said.
Duncan believes as many with autism graduate from high school in many areas, services plateau. In many suburban and rural areas, there are no services for those to continue their path toward independence—many travel to find the limited services that may or may not be available to their specific needs. Realizing a lack of general incentive and opportunities for those on the spectrum, Duncan started the organization to give others on the spectrum/special needs the opportunity to be accepted for who they are and to be encouraged to be the best they can be.
Duncan said the program follows Major League rules (wood bats, base stealing, dropped third strike, etc.) and is a true typical team experience for others on the autism spectrum and special needs to help develop social skills for later in life. In 2019, the organization was commemorated as a Community Hero at an Atlanta Braves game and has been featured on ESPN’s Baseball Tonight and NBC’s Weekday TODAY Show.
“We are looking for a volunteer coach/manager, players, and volunteers to help us start new programs serving those throughout Portsmouth and the surrounding area,” Duncan said. “We must find the coach/manager in order to begin. Players can be of all experience levels. We take them from where they start out at (whether they require to be pitched to slow overhand or hit off the tee) and help develop their physical and social skills.”
Duncan explained the difference between local Challenger League and his program.
“We are different from Challenger because basically, we are the next step up for those over age 15 who want to play baseball in a more traditional style. the thing is that there are just not enough resources out there and some of our people feel like the things that are out there do not fit their needs,” Duncan said. “Obviously, the disability spectrum is so wide, it’s impossible to cover all of it. It isn’t that we are trying to take over what is there, it is because we want to make sure that the other half is covered.”
Duncan has been a part of Alternative Baseball since he founded it in 2016 close to Atlanta, Georgia. He said that after ESPN and the TODAY Show came, he realized that it wouldn’t be some small movement to raise awareness for disabilities. He realized it was morphing into a national solution for a need that he said is largely not being met. Currently, the organization has 80 teams in 33 states.
Duncan said they need to find a coach/manager to get started and then it takes six months to a year to find the players/individuals. He stated it makes sense to do it right now during the pandemic while they cannot do anything. If interested, contact Duncan at www.alternativebaseball.org.
Reach Kimberly Jenkins (740)353-3101 ext. 1928
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