The recent outbreak of the coronavirus has affected almost everyone's life in some shape or form. For young athletes, their sports seasons have been altered or cancelled altogether because of COVID-19.
For the members of the Rising Stars baseball team, their entire lives have been challenged by society and not just COVID-19.
Local resident Danielle Stewart formed the Rising Stars baseball team in an effort to give individuals with special needs a chance to enjoy America's Favorite Pastime.
"My son - Micah Robertson - is special needs, and he is what drove me to start this team," Stewart stated. "Two years ago, we did a special needs basketball team for him, and this year we started a baseball team because his brother plays on a school baseball team. Micah went to all his brother's baseball games and he took a liking to the sport."
Stewart was hoping Micah would be allowed to play on the same team as his brother, but he was denied play on the team by the school system.
"We decided to start a league for children that aren't allowed to be on baseball teams in schools or in other leagues," Stewart stated. "I put the word out on Facebook about starting my baseball team, on the Yard Sale sites, and I even hung flyers at his therapy center."
"Here, we see their abilities and not their disabilities," Stewart stated. "Unfortunately, in other baseball leagues, and schools, they tend to see their disabilities and not see their abilities. In this environment, we give them the opportunity to be themselves and play as they are able to play. This is a non-stressful environment for them and we encourage them to get out here and do their best, and have fun while they are doing it."
Before COVID-19, Stewart had hopes of having enough players to play intra-squad baseball games, and she had hoped to have a youth and an adult league.
"We originally had 25 players sign up for our baseball league, but the COVID virus shrunk our league down to seven players," Stewart stated. "Our plan was to have scrimmage games against each other like we had done in our basketball league."
"Despite the small numbers, we still had several parents still interested in playing on the team, so we decided to go ahead with our baseball team," Stewart stated. "We were going to have a league for the adults as well, but we had only one adult sign up due to the COVID. We decided not to turn anybody away, so they all play together in our weekly practices."
"Right now, there is not any other special needs baseball teams to play against," Stewart explained. "It would be wonderful if there was, but we decided we would meet every Saturday at the Ferguson baseball field. We started practice in June when the governor opened sports back up and plan to play all the way through September."
Seven players strong, the Rising Stars baseball team meets every Saturday afternoon at the Ferguson City Park baseball field. The crack of the bat and the sounds of laughter echo across the railroad tracks that sit adjacent to the historic school edifice. And perhaps the loudest sounds of laughter come from Stewart's own son - Micah.
"He absolutely loves being out here playing baseball," Stewart exclaimed. "He can't run all the bases because of his cerebral palsy. He can hit and run to first base, and that makes him happy."
Not only has Danielle Stewart, and her husband Todd Stewart, taken joy in seeing their son play baseball, but they were both overwhelmed by the outpouring of support and donations from the local community.
"I have a contract with the city of Ferguson to use their baseball field, New Horizon Graphic did our baseball shirts for free and Sports Den donated the special batting tee and special baseballs we had to have for state regulations," Danielle Stewart stated. "The Alzheimer Center of Somerset donated snacks for the kids. We have had several donations from within the community, and we are grateful for every donation that we have received."
Local resident J.C. Cain personally donated the bats and the gloves for the entire Rising Stars team. Stewart also gave praise to City Ferguson Hall for allowing her to sign a contract for the baseball field and for being so accepting of the special needs community.
Once the summer baseball season concludes, the Rising Stars baseball team will be recognized for their efforts in a season-ending Awards Day.
"We are going to have an awards ceremony at the end of the season," Stewart said. "All the players will receive trophies and we will have sort of a pizza party to celebrate their accomplishments season."
Rising Stars team members Micah Robertson, Rylee Gillespie, Reed Gibson, Gavin Bozza, Clara Reed, Ronnie Nelson Jr., Hunter Bozza and Abby Brown look forward to th summer weekends and their time on the baseball field each Saturday afternoon.
STEVE CORNELIUS is the CJ Sports Editor and can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @CJSportseditor.