The Blaze was honored to support Buddy Ball in 2017, our program where children with various learning and physical disabilities are paired with Blaze players to play the great game of baseball. Thank you to all of our Buddy Ball players and their families who were able to join us to make 2017 the most successful season yet.
We look forward to seeing you in 2018!
By Glenview Announcements, 06/29/17, 10:07AM CDT
Jim McManus and Paul Stevens started the Glenview Blaze Baseball program, a feeder program for both Glenbrook South and Loyola, in 1999. It has grown to include five levels, ranging from the 10-year-old level to the 14-year-old level.
The McManus family also started Buddy Ball in which Blaze players and local youths with learning and physical disabilities play baseball together, but it had lost a little momentum over the years. Dan Neppl and Kreg Jackson changed that, taking over Buddy Ball in 2016 and kick-starting it.
The 2017 program consisted of five games — one per week on Sunday afternoons in May and June — played at Westbrook School.
Games last two or three innings, about an hour each, with each level of the Blaze program volunteering to assist the Buddies in hitting, throwing, pitching and catching. Players either hit off a tee or coaches pitch. The score, pitch count and outs are not kept.
Blaze hats and jerseys are provided at no charge to the Buddies.
Both Neppl and Jackson — who usually take turns pitching during Buddy Ball — have sons in the Blaze program, and felt strongly that a new-and-improved Buddy Ball could help both sets of youths.
"When my son, Greg, did it when he was 10, it opened his and the team's eyes to another world that maybe they weren't in touch with," Neppl said. "We saw the joy they brought to the kids who don't get to play baseball on a regular basis. Our kids love baseball and they wanted to share this with others.
"We wanted to develop and create an environment like that, for both sets of kids, to be out there and have fun. Talk baseball, talk Star Wars, talk whatever they want to talk about. They're kids, who cares what they talk about as long as they're together?"
Maria Kotsinis, who has lived in Glenview with her family for 23 years, said this was her seventh year being involved with Buddy Ball. Her 16-year-old son Nick, who will be a sophomore at Glenbrook South, has Down syndrome and thoroughly enjoys the program.
"What keeps him coming back is the camaraderie between the Blaze and the Buddies," Kotsinis said. "Nick is extremely social, and he actually wants to play as if he's a real player. They let him throw a few pitches for practice. He's not a great hitter, but he loves running the bases.
"He just really likes it, everything about it. It's a great program to meet typical kids, and really, it's great for those kids to learn from the ones with special needs. It makes them more patient, it opens their eyes to their abilities instead of focusing on what they don't have. They learn from that. Everyone wins."
Kotsinis, much like her son, loves the program.
There are 20-plus Buddies at each event, and that allows for plenty of individualized attention, which is Neppl's favorite element.
"It's a community program, in all senses of the word," Kotsinis said. "When the special-needs kids are out in the community — and this has happened to Nick several times — he may see one of the Blaze players or a Buddy at the movie theatre or the mall. Playing baseball is great, but that aspect? It's just another very important component, that social element of it."
Rich Mayor is a freelance reporter for Pioneer Press.