August 14, 2014The crack of the bat sound is sweet.
Enthusiastic chants from the cheerleaders prompts the crowd to get involved and encourage a favorite team.
Meet the Little Sluggers and the Friendship Cheerleaders. These youngsters attended Kids on the Go summer camp and showcased weeks of newly-learned skills to family and friends during an Aug. 11 baseball game in Grosse Pointe North High School's gym.
This is the fifth year the special needs baseball team practiced the basic skills of America's game. Ranging in age from 7 to 10 years old, there were two girls and 16 boys striding up to home plate.
Seven girls, with seven peer helpers, were cheering on the baseball players. This is the first year for the cheer squad and it is the first year enough children enrolled in the camp to create two teams, resulting in a rousing baseball game.
It's been great," said Kristy Piana Schena, executive director and founder of Kids on the Go. "It's fun to watch. The girls get to dance and move. The children don't realize they are practicing balance, strength and social skills. They learned simple routines they will do at the baseball game."
Tish Hasting of Grosse Pointe Farms agreed saying her 8-year-old daughter, McKayla, in her second year at Kids on the Go has increased her peer socialization skills, as well learning how to take turns and sharing through the structured program.
Max Ellcessor commitment to practice paid off hitting a home run during the game.
"He practices every day," said his mother Amy Dietrich of Grosse Pointe Farms.
"He loves it so much he wears his glove all day long," said Nate Dodson of his 8-year-old son, Asher.
This was Asher's third year as a Little Slugger and Dodson said he has witnessed the athletic improvement not only in his son, but the entire team.
"They caught pop flies. It took three years. They had so much more fun," he said.
And he has made friends through the camp. "The high fives have turned to hugs," Dodson said.
The sluggers were encouraged by the cheerleaders who wore matching T-shirts and rustled pom pons for the two baseball teams differentiated by the color of their hats — red and blue.
Dressed in white T-shirts and pink shorts with pink ribbons in their hair, cheerleaders, including 7-year-old Lily Forkin of St. Clair Shores practiced at home, as well as once a week as a group. Forkin has been a Kids on the Go camper for three years.
"Cheering has been her favorite thing," said her mother, Jenny. "She was really excited about tonight. She's learned socialization and following directions."
Once a week for five weeks the baseball teams met indoors to work on fundamentals. Mike Fremont and Shaun Hickey, plus four volunteers, worked with the boys and girls. Anthony George, Spencer Lukas and John Rahi, University Liggett School students, and Beth Crader from Grosse Pointe South High School, helped the special needs children with skills such as batting, running bases and catching the ball. The last week the Little Sluggers went outside to put their skills in play.
While the boys and girls learn the art of America's pastime, parents are interacting with their children and meet other parents of special needs children.
"Parent participation is mandatory," Schena said. "Those dads get to play ball and bond with their sons."
This is a reward of the program, Schena went on to say. "They have the opportunity to experience what other children are doing. The parents network."
Kids on the Go summer camp provides speech, occupational and physical therapy, pairing children with professional therapists at no cost to the campers. Kids on the Go serves children with autism, Down Syndrome, Fragile X Syndrome, DeGeorge Syndrome and those who are developmentally delayed.