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Coming to Jupiter: Baseball league for teens and adults with autism

Palm Beach Post - 12/15/2018

Dec. 14--JUPITER -- Jupiter area teenagers and adults who face certain developmental challenges -- those who may not have had the opportunity to participate in sports -- will be able to join a baseball league designed for them.

A local club of the Alternative Baseball Organization is seeking players aged 15 and older who are on the autism spectrum or have other high-functioning special needs. The club also is in need of volunteer coaches.

Taylor Duncan, of Dallas, Ga., didn't want any other child with autism to experience what he did. That's why he started Alternative Baseball at 17.

He was diagnosed with autism when he was 4, which brought with it speech, emotional and social issues. Duncan played one season of Little League Baseball when he was 12, but said most coaches didn't want him on the team, or would keep him on the bench because they saw him as a risk.

"I was obviously devastated," Duncan told The Palm Beach Post in a phone interview. "I really wanted the same opportunities as everyone else and to be accepted for who I was."

It wasn't just about the sport for Duncan. He felt as though he was missing out on opportunities to build character and confidence.

"It's a fun way of learning what life may have in store. We go through ups, we go through downs. We go through hot streaks, cold streaks," he said.

Alternative Baseball sticks to the rules of Major League Baseball: four balls, three strikes, stealing bases, wooden bats. Depending on the player's ability, a tee may be used or pitchers could throw overhand. The ball, which is more like a softball, is the only major modification, Duncan said.

Now, at 23, his organization has grown to 21 planned or established clubs in 12 states. Duncan said he wants clubs to start around the world.

"Everyone on the spectrum, like everyone else, they're different and they're uniquely talented in different ways," Duncan said.

Major media outlets like ESPN and The Today Show covered Duncan's story this year. That's how Donald Kehl, of Jupiter, found out about Alternative Baseball and immediately wanted to participate.

Kehl volunteers for the Special Olympics, but was looking for more ways to give back and get involved.

"When this popped up, it struck a chord in my mind," he said.

Kehl, who will be the manager for the Jupiter area club, thinks an Alternative Baseball league in Palm Beach County will be popular. But first, he needs help from volunteer coaches and, of course, players. Those interested in learning more or joining can call Kehl at 561-307-3888.

"Once they're given the right support and the right environment to be successful, they're going to go places we never thought possible," Duncan said.


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