For any sports fan — whether he or she is of the casual or the diehard persuasion — a sporting event is always fun to take in, no matter who is play or what is at stake.
However, when one watches the kids inside the Autism Project of Southern Ohio play, there is a special, heartwarming feeling that a high school, college, or professional contest can’t match.
On Sunday, Dec. 10 at Glenwood High School, the youths that are under the Autism Project of Southern Ohio umbrella, along with any additional children who have disabilities, will begin another year inside the New Boston Challenger Basketball League, which is sponsored by the APSO.
For Mike Bell, who is a co-founder of the league (along with Steve Hamilton and Mike Payton), the opportunity for kids to be a part of a team, and learn skills that will benefit them over the course of a lifetime as part of that team, makes this league a must for any young child yearning for an activity to participate in.
“The kids get to be a part of a team, as well as a group that accepts children of all disabilities,” Bell said.
Since the league’s formation in December 2014, the league has seen steady growth, as evidenced from its 15-kid, two-team league in its first season to a four-team league in 2016-17 and this year.
“Starting out, we had two teams,” Bell said. “I believe that we had 15 kids and two teams. Since that time, the league has expanded to four teams. This year, we thought that we were going to go back down to two teams, but kids have come pouring into the league over the past several weeks, so it looks like we’re going to have four teams again.”
However, when one sees the message that the league provides, and the support that others around the league, such as Bell, Hamilton, Payton, and Michele King, give to all of the kids, it’s easy to see how the league is growing.
With autism, or in other words, autism spectrum disorder, can affect how kids can relate to others their ages due to the challenges that autism creates, including impaired communication and social skills, leagues such as the New Boston Challenger Basketball League not only allow kids to develop those communication skills that they wouldn’t otherwise have, but also allows those same individuals to obtain much-needed physical exercise that keeps the body and the mind stimulated and healthy.
“It gives these kids a sense of purpose,” Bell said. “It allows these kids to develop social skills through interaction with their peers and allows them to get the exercise that they need as far as their individual health is concerned. As for the parents, they need people to talk to as well so that they can find others who understand the overall scope of autism. Raising a child with a disability is no easy task, and some parents, in the process of taking care of that child, or children, don’t really have anybody to socialize with. This league allows the parents to bring their children out to socialize, while socializing themselves as well.”
But make no mistake about it: the kids take the game, and every basket that they score, seriously.
“At the beginning of the league, I wasn’t going to keep score,” Bell said. “So when we started our first game, we got toward the end, and the kids got upset with me because they were noticing that even though they were hitting shots, there wasn’t a score on the board. The smile that comes across these kids’ faces when they shoot that hoop and they make that basket is priceless. And they shoot their own way. If I have a child who wants to shoot a granny shot, they’ll shoot it like that. If they want to shoot from the three-point line, they’ll do it. And if there’s a kid that is in a wheelchair, he or she will shoot from the wheelchair. But we go at their pace. They’re superstars.”
And not only do those kids get to enjoy a game that they love, they get to do so with the support of some young cheerleaders from Stanton Primary School — which really provides the contests with an environment that all parents can truly enjoy.
“They all have different-colored uniforms,” Bell said. “They play each other. They’ll also have cheerleaders from Stanton and Oak that come out and cheerlead. People love it.”
The work that Bell and company have put into the league, however, is well worth it, according to Bell. After all, they are serving a group of wonderful people and kids that simply watch and play for the true love of the game, which is as much as we can all ask for.
“I encourage people to come out and watch,” Bell said. “These kids love it when they have a crowd. They deserve it. I coach, and I have numerous additional coaches who do a fantastic job, but these kids are the reason why we do what we do.”
Registration for the league is open throughout the year and can be done at the New Boston Community Center. Games will be played every Sunday from Dec. 10 between 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. through the winter months.
For more information, contact Steve Hamilton at (740) 352-5906 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.