Buddyball – A Parents Delight

Moving to another country and trying to find all the possible kids activities in the area is like navigating through a maze, or attempting to understand why ET wasn’t based on true events.

One of best tools, soon to become the property of George Orwell’s “1984“, is by far the world domination wide web and it’s evil Google companion.  Often you have to rely on what you see in the local news, find on the web and/or hear from the folks living in the area.  Either way, we had to find some activities for our kids.

More importantly, we had to find some activities for our son to help him manage his energy levels, encourage exercises and getting him involved with kids.  He loves playing with other kids, so it had to be team sport related.

During our many adventures in our new homeland, we were introduced to a bunch of lovely people – people who knew the area and who would introduce us to one of the best concepts in the World.

It’s actually a very simple concept.  It involves activating kids with disabilities in a fun way, and get them 100% (or thereabouts) engaged.  For a mere $45 dollars, with 10 sessions, it was a simple choice – we had to sign him up.

Meet Buddyball

It’s a New York state run project, managed by a bunch of cool and friendly people, who have a personal interest in making sport fun for kids – and at the same time working with the local schools to provide the needed support.

The main man who runs the weekend sports days is a big man.  He loves the Jets, for some unknown reason, and is extremely enthusiastic.  All the kids admire him and if he’s around they know not to sit down and relax.

It has to be said that the rest of the team is equally as engaged, so the entire operation is a pleasure to be part of.

Kids with all kinds of disabilities gets the chance to play football (soccer as they call it over here) or basketball.  Age ranges from 5-16 ish, but the name of the game “have fun while doing sports”

How is it organized?

Well, in short, kids with disabilities arrive at the field or basketball court, and are assigned a ‘buddy’.  These buddies are teenager who do this as volunteers and they really seem to like it.  It’s amazing.

Sessions normally starts at 10am on Saturday or Sunday mornings, and run for an hour.  Parents sits on the benches or around the pitch, allowing their kids to get fully into the spirit of the sport.  From experience, my son allows does a lot better on these things, if I don’t get involved.  I guess I tend to help him too much, whereas these cool buddies make him do the drills and shoot the ball.

Local Schools Provides Buddies

Now this is the cool bit.  High school students have to earn points for grades and for getting them access to higher education such as colleges.  These points are achieved by participating in community events like Buddyball.

Back in the days, if I was asked to do something, i.e. volunteer, then I would not be overly enthusiastic.  I felt as if I was forced into this against my will.

But, these kids who decide to help out with Buddyball are totally engaged.  They arrive 30 minutes ahead of the players, in the weekends and have to sign in.  If they don’t sign in, they don’t get points for that day.

Then as the pitch or basketball court is invaded by kids, the buddies are assigned to look after a kid for the entire session.  That includes practice, playing, water break, clean noses, wipe away tears … generally look after the kid for an hour – ensuring the mini buddy does soccer or basketball … and have fun.

Game Time

On the morning of Buddyball, my and I get going early so we can get into the sporting mood.  No point making this a last minute thing, rolling out of bed still tired and trying to wake up by playing a sport on a cold morning.  And worse, my son is starting to be a little grumpy in the mornings, so we have to start earlier.

After breakfast, we get dressed for sport, kiss the girls goodbye and head into the garage.  This has become one of the highlights for my son (and me) as we get to drive dad’s (mine) El Camino.  He loves cruising in the monster, listening to rock music.  Listening is probably exaggerating, as the engine is roaring too loudly, radio not working well and as a result the music is a bit difficult to hear.  Nevertheless, we cruise down the street heading towards our morning exercise.

As we arrive at the sports place, in a cloud of exhaust fumes, he jumps out of the car and is speed walking towards the buddies.  He grabs the hand of his assigned buddy.  Let’s play some ball!

Meanwhile, I take a seat on the benches, among all the other parents.  Parents tend to make eye contact for a few seconds, nod to acknowledge each other and then we focus on our kids.  We are all too focused on how well our kids are doing, and also trying to be ready in case they need us.

It’s so rewarding to see his face, hear his laughter and see how he interacts with his buddies.  He tries his best and loves it.

FYI, it’s not just fun and games.  No, the kids have to warm up, do exercises and play games.  So, it’s sweat and tears as they are put through the paces.

45-60 minutes later, the session ends and the kids get biscuits and water.  A well deserved break and an opportunity for the kids to hug their buddies.

Then he most important ritual is about to begin.  Just before the kids break up, the big man running the show, calls for a huddle.  All kids and buddies gathers around him as he prepares the warcry for his beloved Jets “J – E – T – S … jets, jets, jets ….. JEEEEEEETS!”

All the kids screams of laughter and then they head for their parents.  Time to go home.  The car park is full of cars and the queue to get out is like a snake.  Surprisingly it it doesn’t take long to get out.  it’s almost as organized as the sport.

My El Camino gets a bit of attention, probably due to the exhaust fumes and load engine, from dads my age all smiling and giving me the approving nod and wink of the eye.

Presidential Support

A few weeks ago, the Buddyball team announced something fantastic.  What they have going is something unique, and the people in Washington DC have heard about it.  They are sending some representatives to look at how it’s run and how engaged the kids are.

If they like it, which I’m sure they will, then it could be communicated nation wide and parents around the country might attempt to start up something similar in their area/state.  Buddyball is already in many states, but the concept needs to get recognized by the authorities in DC.

If they get the thumbs up from the delegation, then that might even get put in front of Mr. Obama, who then might give it the presidential support.  As a result,  all the kids participating will get a certificate from the President’s office.  How cool is that?

As a parent who have had the opportunity to be part of Buddyball and to see my child get so involved is truly amazing.  I’m delighted to see how much support this initiative has.  To give you a sense of scale.  There are at least 30 kids and triple amount of buddies, and that’s only country my sons age group.  The other group of older kids is equally as big.

They should franchise this and spread the good work they do.  For the sake of 20 weekends spread over the year, 10 for soccer and 10 for basketball, the results are rewarding.

If you read this and want to know more, visit the Buddyball Facebook page and let the politicians in your area know that this is what they should aim for too – support the kids and involve the schools.

Thank you BuddyBall, for making this possible.

Leave a Reply