In the spring of 2009, Michael Richerson recognized a need for organized sports for children with special needs in Jackson and West Tennessee. It didn’t matter if those special needs were developmental or physical; he just wanted the children to be able to participate in a team sport without the disadvantage they faced in most organized sports. Once he put his mind to the task, in a matter of weeks, Special Needs Baseball in Jackson was founded. It took a lot of work on Michael’s part to make this happen, but he didn’t do it on his own. Besides his parents, James and Debbie Richerson, he has two volunteers who have been there since the organization’s inception, Mark Perry and Doris McClain.
Within a couple of weeks, using donated equipment from the community, the baseball action was going strong at Tobe Bailey Field in Muse Park. Every Thursday night anywhere from 30-40 children between the ages of 4 years old-15 years old would show up to play ball! They even had an announcer to call out every player’s name as they came to the plate. Each player got the chance to hit the ball and run every base, or be wheeled around the bases if that was the case. It wasn’t normally the parents that were on the field helping either. Volunteers came from school clubs, baseball teams, and church groups. Special Needs Baseball had volunteers from everywhere coming out to lend a hand, so the parents could sit in the stands and watch.
Special Needs Baseball grew from those 30-40 children in the spring of 2009 to almost triple that by the spring of 2010 with around 120 players. In the fall of 2010 the organization had outgrown its home at Tobe Bailey Field. It was then they started playing their games at the West Tennessee Healthcare Sportsplex.
Everything was great, but something was still missing. There was baseball in the spring and baseball in the fall, but what about the rest of the year? That’s when the staff of volunteers at Special Needs Baseball started brainstorming and before you could push a wheelchair around 3 bases Special Needs Baseball had evolved into Special Needs Athletics!
Special Needs Athletics (SNA) offers year round activities for children (age 4+) and adults with special needs. Besides baseball, there is now bowling, basketball, soccer, and mini-golf. Besides the volunteers at SNA there are many organizations that work in the background to help SNA run so smoothly. There is the West Tennessee Healthcare Foundation who helps manage this growing non-profit, and the organizations that make their venues available for these athletes to compete in. The West Tennessee Heathcare Sportsplex for baseball, The Jackson Family Fun and Bowling Center for bowling, The Courts at West Jackson Baptist Church for basketball, Casey Jones Village Mini-Golf for mini-golf and the soccer venue is still to be determined.
The city of Jackson has also played a big part in the growth, or growth dreams of SNA. They have donated a plot of land so that SNA can build a specially designed baseball field for the athletes. The field will have a synthetic rubber base so wheelchairs and crutches will move as easily as a pair of sneakers. Unfortunately, SNA is a long way from being able to build this field. The cost for completion is about $500,000. But if you ask anyone connected to SNA about raising the money, they aren’t worried, because like the athletes they support, the only limits they have are their dreams.
Special Needs Athletics is continuing to grow, but there are still several families unfamiliar of what SNA offers. The question is often asked, “How can we get this out to more people so their children can participate?” Can you help spread the word?
”The overarching mission of Special Needs Athletics is to provide support and opportunities through various sports for special needs individuals and their families.” – Michael Richerson