Monday, December 11, 2006
Baseball players run Jack’s Place camp
By Rebecca Wyatt, OU Web Writer
Thirty-five kids, ages six and up, took to the baseball field a few weeks ago accompanied by OU’s baseball team. They had participated in a six-week camp and were anxious to test out their new skills. However, no one even bothered to keep score because it didn’t matter. What did matter was that each child was playing baseball and their parents were watching from the stands, something the parents of children with autism don’t often get to do.
The children were participating in the Jack’s Place baseball camp, which is run by members of OU’s baseball team. For the second year in a row, members of the team spent six weeks teaching the kids to throw, hit, run the bases and field.
“I really enjoyed seeing the smiles on the kids’ faces and the smiles on the parents’ faces as they watched their children do something they don’t normally get to do,” said Kevin Chalifour, senior and catcher for OU’s baseball team.
Each child in the camp has an autism spectrum disorder. Jack’s Place for Autism at OU provides the families affected by autism with support through resource referrals, counseling, workshops, seminars and recreational opportunities.
“Activities like the baseball camp help with motor skills and social development,” said Jessica Watson, director of Jack’s Place at OU. “Not to mention, it gives the participants the opportunity to do something they don’t get to do out in the community.”
Watson said OU baseball head coach Dylan Putnam has been supportive of the camp since he joined the team last year.
“It’s a fantastic opportunity for our student-athletes to broaden their experiences as human beings,” said Putnam, who added that community service is not required for members of the team. They participate on a voluntary basis.
This is the second year Chalifour participated in the camp and this year, he helped lead the efforts to organize the camp. With two sets of young twin siblings at home, Chalifour has experience trying to teach young children, but said the autism spectrum disorders posed a new challenge.
“This was my second year, so I did a small rundown with the guys of what to expect and how to deal with it. We would explain something to the kids, then show them and then let them try it,” Chalifour said.
During the fifth week of the camp, the entire baseball team came out to help with a game. Afterward, the players all signed baseballs for the participants to take home.
“I can not tell you how amazing this was for our families. Each child was teamed up with a player and, for the first time, we were able to play a real baseball game,” said Watson. “All of our parents were able to sit and cheer on their child rather than feeling the need to assist them in participating. Many moms and dads were holding back tears as this was something they never thought they would have the chance to do.”
Some of the baseball players also helped out at other Jack’s Place events like the Family Fun Day.
It’s a privilege for us and for our guys to work with such a fantastic organization,” Putnam said. “I think, because of the leadership of players like Chalifour, that a lot more of our players will be involved in the years to come.”
Chalifour, a senior majoring in general studies with a minor in business and communication, said the experience touched his life as well.
“It opened my eyes to something new. I wish I would have explored going into special education or some other form of teaching,” Chalifour said.
While he’ll be gone next year, Chalifour is doing his best to make sure the program continues.
“I want to encourage the players involved next year to make sure that they are enthusiastic about being involved and making the program more enjoyable for the kids,” Chalifour said.
The baseball team members aren’t the only students getting involved at Jack’s Place. Since Jack’s Place opened two years ago, more than 30 students have volunteered more than 300 hours to support activities like sports camps, dance classes, special events and even girls’ night out gathering.
Jack’s Place is currently accepting volunteer applications for students who would like to help. The Jack’s Place at OU Web site also offers a number of job postings. Parents with children on the spectrum post opportunities to care for, tutor and mentor students with autism. These opportunities are usually paid positions, open to those with experience in education and autism spectrum disorders.
Anyone interested in volunteering at Jack’s Place should fill out the volunteer application form available on the Jack’s Place Web site or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.