In September, Yankton’s Special Olympics T-ball team took home the gold medal at the Eastern South Dakota Fall Classic Softball Championships.
The T-ball team has been playing softball together for a few years, learning the game together, each in his or her own unique way. Any of the basic components of the game can easily be explained, but putting it all together took practice and time.
I have been cheering our teams on at Special Olympics since my daughter, Joyce, started participating at age 9. I cheer whether they win or lose because I am so happy that she can play games other kids her age play. Also, I want her to know I’m there and I care.
But there’s always someone to cheer on at Special Olympics. One year, a boy on the junior basketball team kept missing the basket because he just couldn’t throw high or far enough. One of our players finally took matters into his own hands — literally. He held out his arms in a circular shape like the basket and told the boy to shoot. After a couple of shots, the boy finally got his basket to the joyous cheers of everyone watching.
Over the years, Joyce has played basketball, bocce, track and t-ball. Track was easy: run until they stop you or you can’t run anymore. In basketball, she understood that you dribble the ball down the court and throw it into the basket. But she seems to find the whole way you take the ball from another player, well, rude, so that is a work in progress.
T-ball has required the most learning of all because everyone has to do their part by hitting, running and fielding.
Some team members knew exactly what to do while at bat, while others were so amazed when they hit the ball that they had to be reminded to run by the cheering coaches, parents and, sometimes, other players.
Fielding the ball requires several skills, including seeing where the ball goes, getting it and throwing it to the right place. It was not my daughter’s strong suit. Like Peanuts’ Lucy Van Pelt, she would daydream in the outfield, talking, singing, dancing — doing her own thing. When the ball whizzed past her, mostly she would laugh.
The girl I saw play this year was still laughing and doing her thing, but she figured out what to do with that little ball when she could get it.
At one point, Joyce threw the ball home and stopped a run — I was floored. “Is that my kid?”
It was obvious watching them play that the whole team had greater skills and a greater understanding of the game.
At one point, a player on the opposing team, who didn’t want to get tagged out at third base, took off running. Yankton’s third baseman chased him down into the dugout and tagged him out there.
The spectators were surprised and thrilled at the same time — “Is that our team?” Yes. That was our Yankton Panthers, who after a lot of hard work brought home a big win, amid tears and hugs and smiles.
Maybe next year, when Joyce rounds the bases and heads home, she will remember to touch home plate.