Friday, November 2, 2007
OU baseball team shows heart
By Dawn Pauli, staff writer
|An OU baseball player teaches a child from Jack's Place for Autism how to field a baseball.|
At the recent Jack’s Place at Oakland University baseball camp, kids with autism spectrum disorders had the chance to be coached, encouraged and cheered by members of the OU baseball team.
The experience is one that won’t be forgotten by many, especially Alex Pawlik, a 13-year-old from Troy. A few weeks into the camp, the players distributed OU baseball caps to the participants. Unfortunately, none of the caps fit Alex, and he was told he would get a cap the following week.
“Alex didn’t understand. Everyone had a cap but him,” recalls his mother, Karen Pawlik. “One of the players – Josh Kozuch, the catcher – was watching what was going on, from the side. He came over and tried to explain, and Alex started to cry. So he went over to his duffle bag, pulled out his cap, and brought it over to Alex.”
Alex still wears the hat every day, and calls it his “special playing hat.” He asked Kozuch to sign it.
When the Kozuch, a sophomore, heard Alex is still wearing the hat, he said, “It was something so little, but it makes my year to hear how much it meant to him.”
The baseball camp was introduced three years ago. Once a week, for six weeks in the fall, a dozen baseball team members teach the kids, ages 6 to 19, how to throw, field, hit and run the bases. The goal of the program is for the kids to focus on having fun while they’re working on baseball skills.
“It’s fun and relaxed, no pressure. The participants think it’s neat,” explained Val Yaros, program coordinator.
Head Coach John Musachio said the program is coordinated by the upperclassmen. “Every year, we introduce the program to the newcomers, and say the same thing: You’re going to get as much out of this as the participants from Jack’s Place,” he said. “All the players who were involved spread the excitement, and it’s become a partnership with our players. The coaching staff stands off to the side.”
The story about Alex and his baseball cap didn’t surprise Musachio. “That was a snapshot of the relationship we have with these kids and this organization. The initiative and the kindness that our young man demonstrated was so humbling,” he said.
Pawlik is still amazed by the kindness and encouragement the baseball team showed the children. She said, “It was all from the heart. I was almost in tears that first day, telling them, ‘You don’t understand how meaningful and important this hour is that you are spending with our kids. You are making them feel so special.’ They don’t get this kind of attention from their peers.”
Kozuch said he would tell his teammates who are thinking about helping next year, “If you want to give back to the community, you’ll be doing something you love, and you’re helping the kids. It’s a win-win.”
Visit the Jack’s Place at Oakland University Web site for more information about the programs and resources available for children with Autism Spectrum Disorders and their families.