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After Aaron Holmes belted a three-run home run deep over the left-field fence last Sunday afternoon, his teammates and opponents both congratulated him with high-fives as he glided swiftly around the base paths.
Holmes, though, never glances up to see three runs light up on the scoreboard. He knows the scoreboard is turned off, but more importantly, he knows there are no losers in Buddy Ball — and that’s just how he likes it.
From the 28-year-old Holmes, who is one of the participants in the league designed for people with mental and/or physical disabilities, to the volunteers who spend their Sunday afternoons during the fall and spring as a “Buddy,” everyone is a winner.
“It’s just fun,” said Holmes, who has played in the league for the past two seasons. “I like sports, and (Buddy Ball) is just a way to help people have fun.”
Williamsburg Buddy Ball finished its seventh spring season Sunday, when everyone earned a medal for their participation before celebrating with a pizza party.
As a standout defender on Jamestown High School’s girls soccer team that recently lost in the Group AA state tournament, Alex Dayton is fully in tune with the competitive side of sports. She says volunteering for Buddy Ball, something she’s done since eighth grade, helps remind her of why she began playing soccer in the first place.
“It reminds you how much fun sports can be without the competitiveness,” said Dayton, whose brother, Drew, has played in the Buddy Ball league for several years. “[Drew] has something to look forward to, and he just has so much fun.”
The league aims to offer people with handicaps more than just the opportunity to play baseball, but a recreational outlet in general.
“Baseball is a sport for all levels,” Buddy Ball volunteer and parent Arch Marston said. “Some of the kids here like to hit off the tee, some take it more seriously, some want to pick daisies; it doesn’t really matter. Come to do what you want and enjoy it.
“That’s what it’s all about.”
Local Buddy Ball coordinator Joel Schwartz, a professor at William and Mary, brought the program to Williamsburg in 2006.
“I was talking with local families whose children weren’t able to play in the rec little leagues because of physical handicaps and intellectual handicaps,” Schwartz said. “They had heard about leagues in other places for special needs children, and we just got started.”
“Being associated with the local youth league is great because it means we have access to equipment and a network for uniforms and that sort of stuff.”
“We are trying to make this program grow so that all children can be able to participate in playing ball,” said Don Gowen, the state commissioner of the Babe Ruth League that oversees Buddy Ball operations.
Gowen, who attended the final spring session of Buddy Ball held at the Warhill Sports Complex this past Sunday, added that he is working on coordinating a friendly tournament that would bring as many Buddy Ball leagues from around the area to Williamsburg sometime next year.