ESP ASPIRE gives special-needs children chance to excel
Wednesday, 15 June 2011 11:58

One of the highlights of the day for players and coaches of the ESP ASPIRE softball team was a team picture with the Oriole Bird, take outside of Sparrows Point High School on June 11.    photo by Michael Rodman

Adaptive sports program began in April 2010

by Nicole Rodman

    In the year-long history of the Edgemere-Sparrows Point ASPIRE special-needs sports program, few moments had been as exciting as what occured last Saturday morning, as young members of the program’s softball team were treated to a visit from the Oriole Bird himself.
    The faces of the team’s 25 members lit up as the mascot took the time to meet each and every player.
    The visit was made possible by the Oriole Advocates outreach program. The Oriole Advocates travel across the state, visiting special-needs and lower-income sports programs all over Maryland, northern Virginia and Washington D.C.
    As the Oriole Bird danced and posed for pictures, children zoomed around him, some using wheelchairs or walkers, but all of them beaming with joy.
    For the chairperson of the ESP ASPIRE program, Missi Jablonski, the sight is a gratifying one.
    Working with the Baltimore County Deparment of Recreation and Parks’ Office of Therapeutic Recreation,  Jablonski created the adaptive sports program last year. The program’s softball team played for the first time last April.
    Jablonski was inspired to create the program after failing to find a sports program that her then-14-year-old son Jacob would “fit in” with.
    Now, a year later, Jablonski is looking back on the program’s many successes.
    According to Jablonski, the program began with 12 children but has grown to now include 25 children.
    Most, tellingly, all of the program’s original participants are still with the program, a fact which speaks to the depth of support available to team members and their families.
    Players in the program represent a wide range of ages, from 5 to 17 years old, and a variety of disabilities, including autism spectrum disorders and cerebral palsy.
    By creating a non-judgemental environment where “big kids help little kids” and parents cooperate rather than compete, Jablonski has created an environment where players’ needs are addressed.
    The support is paying off, according to Jablonski, as the childrens’ skills, both on and off the field, improve.
    “The kids have grown so much in the last year,” Jablonski explained, adding,
    “Before, most of the kids hit the ball off of a tee but now only two do.”
    As Jablonski was quick to note, much of ASPIRE’s success is due to the program’s head coach, Delke Crouthamel. Also a coach at Charlesmont Elementary School, Crouthamel’s expertise was instrumental.
    “My husband Mike and I learned so much from him,” Jablonski said.   
    The players’ parents are also a vital part of the program, providing another layer of support for both their children and each other.
    “Everyone is supportive of each other’s kids,” Jablonski noted.
    As parent Mark Swan explained when asked how the program has impacted his son, Andrew,
    “The program taught my son skills for sports and taught him to be part of a team.”
    Swan also acknowledged that the program has helped him as well.
    “The program gives me confidence that other parents are going through the same thing and not giving  up,” adding,
    “We need to get our kids out there living life.”
    Ron Coleman, whose two sons Devin and Dylan are in the program, has also seen a difference in his children.
    “The kids are more sociable. They like being around children like them. They look forward to it every Saturday.”
    Devin Coleman, agreeing with his father’s remarks, noted that the program “is fun.”
    Ron Coleman acknowledged that the program has helped him “110 percent.
    “I get a chance to talk to other parents  of kids with disabilities and get support and advice,” he said.
    The event, which also included a cookout, free Baltimore Orioles souvenirs and team pictures with the Oriole Bird, marked the end of the softball season.
    After taking the summer off., the ASPIRE program will begin registering players for indoor soccer in late August.
    More information will appear in the Edgemere-Sparrows Point Recreation Council column on The Eagle‘s Recreation News page later this summer.
    Each session costs $30. As Jablonski noted, “a lot of our parents are single moms. We [charge] what people can afford.”
    A donation-driven program, ASPIRE receives no outside funding, either from Baltimore County or any other source.
    Despite the  challenges, financial and otherwise, Jablonski sees the program as an important part of her life, noting,
    “I am very thankful that the program has grown. At first I was apprehensive but now I can’t imagine not doing it.”
n For more information, or to donate to the
ASPIRE adaptive sports program, contact Missi Jablonski at 410-477-5545 or by e-mail at Milissalyn@gmail.com.