Alternative Baseball preps for the launch of its first club in Orange County
Alternative Baseball Organization, a nonprofit that sets up baseball teams targeted towards teens and adults with autism and other disabilities, is launching its first club in Orange County.
The nonprofit, open to people ages 15 and up, is based in the East Coast but found an unexpected need for expansion in the West Coast during the coronavirus pandemic.
Taylor Duncan, 25, founded Alternative Baseball in Dallas, Ga., initially with the goal to raise awareness and acceptance of people diagnosed with autism.
Duncan said he was diagnosed to be on the autism spectrum at the age of 4 and had anxiety, speech and sensory issues. He didn’t have the same opportunities to play traditional sports as his peers.
“As I got older, my mother, teachers and mentors helped me get through a lot of those [developmental] delays,” Duncan said. “I was ready to participate [in baseball]. But I still faced a lot of the social stigma and a lot of negative perceptions of what one with autism can and cannot accomplish in the sports world.”
Duncan was denied opportunities to play traditional sports multiple times. One Little League coach cited his autism as a safety risk. Other coaches benched Duncan often. He couldn’t find sports programming in his area that catered to him. Instead, he recruited players and established his own team to take to a championship game. He went on to attend spring training in Kissimmee, Fla., and traveled to receive one-on-one training from athletes in various locations.
In 2016, he decided to bring all that he learned back to his hometown. While the intention was to create a local awareness campaign through baseball, Duncan found there was a national need for disabilities services. He said the skills he learned through baseball transferred over to other areas of life like employment.
“I’m thinking why can’t I bring everything that I learned to others who just want the same experience to really learn how to work together as a team, how to encourage each other even when times are the absolute worst,” Duncan said.
Since then, the nonprofit has expanded across the U.S. with about 70 clubs. As of today, there is one coaching manager who volunteered to represent the Orange County club — Kelly Henderson.
Before the coronavirus pandemic, Duncan said Alternative Baseball had 20 teams. The more teams launched, the more media attention Duncan received and the more volunteers kept reaching out to fill a need in their respective neighborhoods.
“If it weren’t for our volunteers, who devote their time and their specific roles to help us have the highest quality of program possible, we wouldn’t be here,” Duncan said.
Henderson watched Duncan’s broadcast interview on KTLA last year and reached out. She’s worked in special education for about five years and liked that the nonprofit focused on the nurturing portion of baseball as opposed to the competitiveness of the sport.
“I thought this would be a good kind of an outlet for students with communication disabilities to have an opportunity to participate in something that really does support their growth in sportsmanship,” Henderson said. “Not just the physical skills, but the social-emotional skills as well. Everybody should have those memories of growing up.”
She’s based in Seal Beach and hopes to secure a local field once it becomes safe and available to do so. Her goal over the year is to push for inclusiveness by encouraging more coaches from local high school baseball communities to get involved in the nonprofit.
Henderson, who teaches kids with autism in Huntington Beach, said, “In my teaching lifetime, putting communication disabilities into the mainstream world is so recent. Everything has just changed. Now, we are opening up so many doors and avenues for people with communication disabilities to be part of our communities.”
Duncan said people are focused on volunteering during the pandemic.
“People want to be able to plan for life after the pandemic,” Duncan said. “I feel like this pandemic made a lot of people realize that it’s really important to be able to have that community engagement, to get out there and help those who really need help and fulfill needs that have not been served.”
For now, Duncan is taking media, volunteer umpire and coach and potential player informational interviews over Zoom and phone. He estimates it’ll take six months to a year to fill new teams and is keeping an eye out for when sports can safely return.
For more information about Alternative Baseball, visit alternativebaseball.org.
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