Employee helps children with disabilities enjoy baseball on their terms
“Bend those knees, Ethan.”
“Great swing, Katrina!”
“Go, go, go! Next batter up is Chloeeeeee.”
SRP employee Seth Burnett moved around the ballfield at Anthem Community Park in north Phoenix on a recent Saturday morning, guiding the players, showing them how to swing the bat and egging them on to do their best, all with a big smile.
While many Valley residents flock to spring training games in March, the families of the High Desert Little League Challenger Division look forward to heading to Anthem Park each spring and fall.
Their children have a range of disabilities, from autism to cerebral palsy and Down syndrome. But on the dirt field for the next several weeks, they experience their own slice of Americana — simply watching their kids play ball.
That’s what motivates Burnett, a Transportation Equipment Analyst/Engineer, and volunteer member of the High Desert Little League board of directors.
As the board’s Information Director, Burnett teamed up with Tisha Huebsch, Challenger Division Director, to ensure that the local Little League community knew about this opportunity. He printed fliers and posted information on websites; he set up a buddy system so players from the main league could help the Challenger kids run and pitch on the field; and he generated excitement with team parties and trophies.
“Seth is hands down our most dedicated volunteer, helping everyone in any way possible,” Huebsch said. “Seeing his patience and sensitivity with the kids and the joy he gets out of it all is inspiring.”
Before each season, Burnett calls each Challenger family to make sure they have all the information they need. On the field, when the kids are having a rough day, he gets them going. He buddies up with them, and even though he’s not their coach, he’s there for support.
He said the Challenger League ties make baseball far more emotionally rewarding.
“These kids respond from the time they walk in to the time they leave,” he said. “It’s some of the most positive organized chaos I’ve ever seen.”
Amanda Palacios said she never dreamed of putting her shy, autistic daughter in sports, but she’s glad she did after learning about the Challenger Division.
“My daughter doesn’t take well to people, but when we walked up, Seth was so friendly and genuine that he instantly made her comfortable,” she said.
The rewards go well beyond learning the basics of baseball.
“It has opened her up so much,” Palacios added, getting emotional. “Cali can be herself and not be judged.”
Burnett even went to see Cali in the hospital recently with a get-well note written on a baseball.
“He took time out from his weekend to come see her, and that lit up her day,” Palacios said.
Parents appreciate that participation is free, including uniforms. Burnett said that’s designed so that these parents already dealing with medical expenses can get their families involved in a fun activity without having to worry about paying for it.
“I want the parents to have the same hour-and-a-half of fun as we do,” he said. “It’s the big kid inside of me who wants everyone around me to have the same feeling.”
Learn more about how SRP employees make a difference in the community srpvolunteers.com.
Photos: Heidi Allen Wesolowski