ExCEL program a big success|Kids with disabilities shine on the diamond

Published 10:52 pm Sunday, October 11, 2009

Sports Editor

Jacob Pittman slowly made his way into the batter’s box. He gripped the bat, while getting assistance from Morgan Bryant, and awaited the pitch.
After a smooth swing that made solid contact with the ball, Pittman, an 8-year-old with autism, trotted to first base for a single. He was safe.
Then again, each batter was safe, and each batter scored, during a spectacular Sunday afternoon of T-Ball at the Susiegray McConnell Sports Complex.
Each player left the field a winner and that’s just how ExCEL (Exceptional Children Enjoying Life) founder Allen Pittman, the father of Jacob Pittman, likes it.
“Everybody is a winner,” Pittman said. “This has been wonderful.”
That certainly seemed the case Sunday as players like Elizabeth Willis and Caroline Tyer wore smiles nearly the entire afternoon.
Pittman came up with the idea of ExCEL because of his son, Jacob.
“This is something that I’ve been thinking about for several years now, because of my own son, Jacob, who has autism,” Pittman said. “I see other kids out there playing ball and I wanted to find a way for him to play ball.
“I knew with his attention span that it needed to be an assisted program. I tried to get help several years ago, but I couldn’t find anybody who could take this on, so I just decided to do it. With the support of my wife (Donna) and several friends in the community, I am very happy this came into fruition.”
There are 24 kids who are signed up for the ExCEL program, which is free of cost. Games are held each Sunday, beginning at 2 p.m., at the complex. It started Sept. 20 and will conclude Oct. 25.
Rep. Arthur Williams threw out the first pitch prior to the first game.
“That was truly a blessing that he came out here, because I wanted to show him and the kids that he is one of my heroes,” Pittman said.
Donations from the community have helped make this program a success.
“I think it’s so wonderful that these kids with disabilities have the opportunity to play, because I believe that they have just as much right to play and have fun as any other kid,” Pittman said. “I am very thankful for the volunteers in the community. I’m glad to have the community’s support, and that the community has embraced this idea.”
While Pittman was talking about the children, the volunteers felt like winners as well after getting to spend some quality time doing something they enjoyed.
“This is just something special for me coming out here,” said Jerome Tyson, who works countless hours at the Washington Recreation Department and is an assistant coach on the Pam Pack football team.
“It’s heartwarming to give my time for these kids. I get emotional about this.”
David Daniel, a former Washington softball coach who has supported countless teams and players over the years, was happy he could help.
“This is special,” Daniel said. “They need for everybody to come out and support them and let them feel what other athletes feel when they play ball.”
After Washington Recreation Director Bobby Andrews led the group in the singing of the national anthem, followed by the singing of the inspirational Jesus Loves the Little Children, the players got down to business. Ranging in age from 4 to 9, the kids went through two rounds of batting.
Bryant, a sophomore at Washington High School and a star with the Lady Pam Pack softball team, joined her Carolina Dirt Devils teammates to lend their talents and support.
“It makes me feel really good to know that I’m helping somebody else,” Bryant said. “(The highlight) was seeing all the little kids hit the ball and run after the ball. Just being able to see the kids play was great.”
Andrews, who did the announcing and made each player feel like a star, was thrilled to be around the youngsters.
“I’ve been involved in athletics all my life, and this is one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever been around in my life,” Andrews said. “They should have the opportunity just like anybody else.
“It just means so much to me to see the expression on their face, especially when you announce their name.”
Sam Crawford, who assists with recreational sports and spends much of his time helping the Washington Pam Pack athletic programs, spent part of his Sunday cheering on the batters and offering tips here and there.
“This is really good and it’s good fun,” Crawford said. “It’s good to see the kids with a smile on their face, and being able to see them shine.
“The biggest thing for them is when they hit the ball, run and get on base. And when they score, that really makes them feel good.”
Pittman is hoping more fans and volunteers can show up to today’s game, which begins at 2 p.m., and at the next two Sunday outings.
“I invite everyone to come out and watch these kids have fun,” Pittman said.
Whether they were mentally challenged or physically challenged, each kid was just that on a sunny Sunday afternoon — a kid.
A kid full of hopes
A kid full of dreams.
A kid with a big smile.
A kid who was a winner.