Eastlake Little League Challenger Division - Lending a Helping Hand

Phillip Brents

Mon September 23, 2013 10:50pm

There are two days in March that hold special significance for Jen and Marcus Jones. The two days are relevant for different reasons. 

Their oldest child, Addison Grace, was born on March 2. 

March 21 is World Down Syndrome Day. 

“Each year, the voice of people with Down syndrome, and those who live and work with them, grows louder,” says Jen, who has written a book about her experiences, with her daughter as a catalyst. “But there is still so much more we can do.” 

Addie, as she is affectionately known among family members, was diagnosed with Down syndrome shortly after birth.  She is currently 9. 

This was the eighth year that World Down Syndrome Day has been celebrated. The date symbolizes the third (extra) copy of the 21st chromosome in people with Down syndrome.  

Keeping the faith

Jen was not aware she had been carrying a child with Down syndrome. However, she and her husband suspected at birth. A chromosome test revealed the results three days later.

Nonetheless, the Joneses welcomed her into the world with love — the same love shown any typically developing baby. After all, she was God’s gift.

“From the day of her diagnosis with Down syndrome we decided we would treat her exactly the same as we had planned to treat a typically developing baby,” Jen said.  

The family has relied on its deep faith to get through the rough times. 

Jen’s book is called “Thrive: Going Through Life’s Greatest Challenges” and is available wherever e-books are sold or from Jen’s website (https://jenjonesdirect.com/thrive). It can be read on a Kindle device, personal computer, smart phone or tablet. 

Jen and Marcus, who will celebrate their 13th wedding anniversary in November, now have four children: Addie is the oldest, followed by Tatum, their second daughter, 7, their 6-year-old son Brody and the baby girl of the family, Piper, 3. 

The children will be attending the new Camarena Elementary School near the family’s home in the Winding Walk community.  

Jen feels Addie has received incredible benefits from being included with her typically developing peers in various environments.  

As part of the Joneses’ full-immersion philosophy, Addie began playing youth baseball in Eastlake Little League’s Challenger Division when the program started two years ago. They feel this organization has built confidence and developed abilities that might otherwise have remained dormant.  

Addie’s participation has opened up a new world for the family, in particular for Brody. 

New frontiers

The Challenger Division program, which Little League Baseball founded in 1989, is designed for differently-abled youth to help them enjoy the full benefits of Little League participation in an athletic environment tailored to their abilities.  

Making this possible requires the role of a “buddy.” The buddy, in this case, is the “agent of inclusion,” as Jen phrases it. 

“As we talk about the benefits of inclusion, we focus our attention on the child with special needs,” Jen explains. “But often, the undersold value of inclusion is the benefit it gives to the typical child.” 

This struck a chord when Jen watched Brody, then 5, express his interest in being a “buddy” for the Challenger Division tee-ball team, which was comprised of children his own age. 

“I saw more clearly the undersold benefits of full inclusion,” Jen relates. “This gift that Brody was about to experience is available to anyone who opens their life to someone with exceptional abilities.” 

Brody’s interest in being a buddy peaked after a practice he attended for Addie.  

Jen relates:  “He and my husband went out on the field to lend an extra hand. As one young man on the team struggled to make it to first base, Brody was encouraged to run alongside him. He came home that evening full of pride and told me the story. Feelings of empowerment were developed and he experienced his ability to make a difference by giving.” 

Though Brody’s role was to help team members who needed a little extra support, “his attitude was like that of an equal,” according to Jen. 

Brody’s caring demeanor did not go unnoticed by others. 

Jen relates how at the last game of this season, the mother of a differently-abled child approached her. 

 “She was emotional as she began,” Jen recalls. “She expressed her gratitude to Brody for not looking at her son as someone who was less-than or needy, but as a peer who simply needed a friend to run the bases with. She wasn’t sure if it was our parenting or the fact that he had a sister with Down syndrome. Either way, she was thankful.

“I walked away wondering some of the same things. When Brody expressed interest in playing, we simply agreed. We didn’t define what a ‘buddy’ was. We gave him a glove, a hat, told him to have fun and go be a good friend. I didn’t give Brody enough credit that day. He’s (now) 6 and, as a result of his older sister, has been exposed to many children with many different abilities. It dawned on me that, perhaps, through the game of baseball (that) my son was learning the value lesson of equality and acceptance.

“As I watch Brody round the bases, holding the hand of another 5-year-old who needs a little extra help, I know he is learning something invaluable: life’s not all about you. Sometimes you slow down and put yourself aside to meet the need of another. 

“America’s favorite pastime is a benefit to my child with exceptional abilities and it’s developing my typical child into an exceptional young man.”

Want to get involved?

Contact Eastlake Little League’s Challenger Division by emailing eastlakell@hotmail.com