News Article Details

‘Alternative Baseball’ club swings into Gaston

Gaston Gazette - 7/24/2019

A new baseball club for teens and adults with autism and other special needs will begin swinging for the fences in Gaston County.

The Alternative Baseball team--the Carolina Fireflies--will begin practicing at George Poston Park in Lowell beginning July 30. The club, for those age 15 and up, will then play several seven-inning games in September and October amongst its member players or against the organization's only other nearby team from Boiling Springs, South Carolina.

It's the latest member team of the Alternative Baseball Organization, a nonprofit that was founded in January 2016 in Atlanta by its National Commissioner Taylor Duncan, who has lived with autism since being diagnosed as a child. As a teenager, he dealt with social stigmas, and was cut and passed over by coaches and teams during his own baseball career, and didn't know where to turn.

"They didn't think I was capable because of the autism diagnosis," Duncan said. "I asked my mother why isn't this available for everyone like myself who just wants the opportunity. A lot of people who get shut out of these opportunities and in many rural areas, there is nothing else."

So Duncan wanted to create more athletic and social opportunities for those facing similar challenges. And through Alternative Baseball, he's striving to raise awareness and acceptance for those with autism and other special needs by providing them with the opportunity to break barriers and to power through perceptions through baseball.

"They not only learn the physical skills through the sport of baseball, but they also learn the social skills to be successful in and outside of the sport of baseball," said Duncan, who visited Gastonia last week. "A lot of those on the autism spectrum deal with a lot of social skills issues. It teaches them how to deal with those life experiences because there's going to be good and bad days in real life as well."

Alternative Baseball now has almost 30 teams spanning 13 states, and his ambitions to spread into Canada. The Fireflies are the organization's first and only team in North Carolina. And as the program grows, Duncan hopes to field more teams in the Carolinas.

And that's happening thanks to people like Allen Boyd, who is helping to organize the team in Gastonia.

Boyd, who grew up in Gaston County, was paralyzed during his junior year in college in a diving accident. A few years back, he, along with family and friends started the Illumination Foundation of North Carolina, a nonprofit organization that's mission is to help people with autism, and other special needs and physical disabilities.

Boyd recently saw Duncan's story aired on ESPN and on other media channels. So, he gave Duncan a call and got the process moving to bring a team to Gaston County.

"This was just right up our alley," said Boyd. "I was disabled a while back and my cousins have always worked with young adults with autism, and this just felt pretty natural for us to be bringing that here."

United Support Services out of Charlotte has already donated money to purchase uniforms and equipment for the Fireflies, according to Boyd. The team has games already scheduled for September and October.

With Boyd as general manager, Dustin Summerfield will take on head coaching duties, assisted by Jodie DePascale and Scotty Cootware, with special assistance from Kathy Moore.

Anyone interested in playing, or volunteering to coach or umpire for the Fireflies can call 980-239-8374, email fireflies@illuminationnc.org, or search Carolina Fireflies on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

And as another team enters the mix, the opportunity rises for more athletes with special needs to lead a fuller life. Duncan says athletes on the organization's teams are realizing ambitions to drive a vehicle and find a job.

"It goes way beyond the sport of baseball," Duncan said.

You can reach Eric Wildstein at 704-869-1828 or Twitter.com/TheGazetteEric.

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(c)2019 Gaston Gazette, Gastonia, N.C.

Visit Gaston Gazette, Gastonia, N.C. at www.gastongazette.com

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