To the T-Ball League That Didn't Let My Son With Down Syndrome Play


I emailed our local Little League organization back in the winter to inquire about both of my older kiddos enrolling in their T-ball program. I did mention in the email my oldest son, Jake, who is 5, has a diagnosis of Down syndrome. I mentioned it not as a question to his eligibility to attend the program, but to open a discussion on how best to help him thrive in the program. They responded by telling me they have not had great experiences in the past with children with disabilities, and I should pursue another program for him — a response which completely took me by surprise.

I wrote them back explaining my position and identifying why I was disappointed in their decision. They have not contacted me. I am sharing the letter with the hope that as a society we can start holding organizations accountable to more. To equal opportunity. To pursuing inclusive environments. To the ideology that every child is valuable and important. This, dear friends, is a battle I’m willing to pick, this is a hill I’m willing to die on.

To the organizers of Centennial Little League,

As I sit here and write this, even a month after receiving your email regarding my son’s participation in your T-ball program, I continue to be profoundly disappointed in your interaction with me. I will not be registering any of my four children in Centennial Little League, but I felt it important to share with you my thoughts on this experience. Perhaps your life has not been touched by disability in the same way that ours has, and so I do not want to assume you would think through things in the same manner as we do.

First, I wanted to share with you our vision for our son, and the lens through which we try and make the best decisions possible for him.

You should know as parents of a child with a disability growing up in this generation, we are seeking to provide our child with the most inclusive lifestyle possible. Jake is a vivacious, fun-loving, energetic 5-year-old with an amazing personality and the ability to draw people to himself. He is fully included, with supports, in a mainstream Kindergarten class in our local school. He plays soccer in our community soccer club, and they have been phenomenal at adjusting to suit his level when needed, but have also understood the importance of community sports and relationships. In the past, he has been enrolled in gymnastics, swimming, summer camps and the list goes on. All of these activities listed have been in the community, alongside his brothers or friends, and in the context of other typical children his age.

We firmly believe — and research would back up our stance — that the inclusion of children with disabilities in community settings not only benefits the child with the disability, but also provides numerous benefits for all children with whom the child interacts. Lessons on acceptance, respect, diversity, kindness, friendship, and celebrating differences are crucial. Promoting these life lessons in everyday encounters is vital to the health and wellness of every child, typical or not. I am trying to raise my children to understand and recognize we treat all people as equal, regardless of race, gender, or disability; and to do otherwise is discrimination. Not acceptable in any way, shape, or form.

It is with this ideology in mind you can imagine my discouragement when I received your email and realized you would not be willing to register my child for your program. We are disappointed in your decision, and in your organization’s position on my son, and by proxy, other children with disabilities.

Whatever the reasoning was behind your decision, you need to know it is very disconcerting. I am quite certain, especially after reading the by-laws of your organization, that you would not discourage entrance into your program based on gender or race. It confuses me, then, why you would deny my child the opportunity to play in your organization based on disability. On top of that, you made the decision without having ever met, talked to, or interacted with my child.

I also wanted to point out some key phrases from your very own Centennial Little League by-laws for your consideration.

Under the description of the T-ball program, it states the following as goals, “Young players are introduced to the game of baseball. They learn, develop and practice fundamental baseball skills at an early age to receive maximum enjoyment from the experience. Emphasis is placed on participation and enjoying their first baseball experience.”  Your Vision Statement states, “Centennial Little League is devoted to providing opportunities for boys and girls alike by establishing an ongoing foundation of support for all athletes to reach their full potential.”  Your eligibility section states that, “Any person sincerely interested in active participation in the league may apply to become a member.”

All of these statements from your own by-laws make it seem like Centennial Little League would be an organization committed to providing a great experience for my children. If my ultimate goal had been to provide an experience for my son where he was playing alongside other peers with disabilities, I would have looked into a different program to begin with. But to my husband and I, the ultimate goal was participation and enjoyment of sport, and the ability to do this in the context of being able to play alongside his siblings and friends.

I end this letter not as an angry parent, but rather as one who is trying to be the best advocate possible. I sincerely hope this letter gives you pause, calls you to re-evaluate your decision as it pertains to many families hoping to foster a love for the game of baseball in their children, and causes you to rethink your stance regarding similar situations in the future.

Sincerely,
Karyn

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