League of Dreams gives disabled kids a chance

League of Dreams gives disabled kids a chance

Martin Chang

Martin Chang, Editor in Chief

Martin Chang

Editor in Chief

 

The opening day celebration of the League of Dreams baseball season brought together over 200 mentally and physically disabled athletes, in what executive director Jessica Mathews called the best and biggest opening day since League of Dreams started in 2006.

The League of Dreams website describes the organization as a “non-profit sports league for children with disabilities ages 5 to 22.”

Mathews says that the goal of the league is to give every disabled child who has ever wanted to play sports a chance to do just that.

“We really want every child, no matter what their abilities are. Whether they’re in a wheelchair or whether they’re in a walker, we want them to play sports as if they are any regular kid,” she said. “We serve kids with every type of disability.”

The opening day took place on April 7th at Fruitvale Norris Park. Mathews, who has volunteered with League of Dreams since it started in 2006, called this year’s opening day “the best we’ve ever had.”

“We had so many great people out here. We had so many great vendors. Everyone just had a really great time,” she said.

The event had a barbecue, face painting and bounce houses for the athletes to enjoy. The event is meant to bring together all the teams and the volunteers to meet up. Plenty of smiles were had as friends greeted each other and the athletes played the activities.

Matt Koepper got involved as a coach with League of Dreams when his son Jake wanted to play back in 2006. Koepper feels that the opening day has grown into something really special.

“It’s great, it’s really evolved into a spectacle,” he said. “It’s wonderful to see all the kids I have had in the past and the new players. It gets to be more of a family out here where we get to know a lot of people. It’s really a great day of connecting with others.”

As a part of the day’s events, all of the teams stood on the park’s field. Over 200 children brightened up the field with their colorful jerseys and smiles. The Bakersfield Blaze mascot, Heater, came out to greet the kids. Many of them happily gave him a high-five and a hello.

Assemblywoman Shannon Grove helped athlete Lauren Latta throw out the traditional first pitch. Grove encouraged Latta by talking to her and jumping up and clapping when Latta threw the ball.

It was Grove’s first time helping out League of Dreams in Bakersfield. She calls what she saw at opening day “amazing.”

“I believe that every kid, every individual, has the right to live the fullest life ever, regardless of disability. 200 kids in this league now, and they’re all going to play baseball,” Grove said. “That’s phenomenal.”

Grove enjoyed throwing out the first pitch with Latta.

“I loved it,” Grove said. “I thought Lauren did a great job, she was really excited. The little boy Noah did a great job as well.”

Grove said that “this won’t be the last” time she would help with League of Dreams. She even plans on coming to games.

“When I’m in town on Fridays and Saturdays I’m going to watch them and cheer them on. I have to wear my Angels shirt though.”

Both Mathews and Koepper see something special when they watch the athletes play.

“I really enjoy seeing them go around the bases for the first time or hitting their first ball,” said Mathews.

“That smile shows so much, that they love it, that they love being able to do it, that they would do anything in order to participate.”

Koepper thinks you have to see the athletes play to understand what it does for them.

“It’s one of those things. It’s hard to describe without seeing a game. When you see a game, you can feel it for yourself. It’s more of a feeling [watching the game]  than any words can capture.”