I haven’t blogged in a while. Life has been busy, in this stage of life Down syndrome often takes the back burner to the “normalcy” of life (whatever that means!!), and raising four little boys and running a thriving small business hasn’t left me with much time left over. It is my heart, however, to continue to grow as an advocate, and it is with this in mind that I could not keep silent regarding our experience as of late.
As a little byte of context, I had emailed this organization back in February to inquire about both of my older kiddos enrolling in their tee ball program. I did mention in the email that Jake has a diagnosis of Down syndrome, but I mentioned it not as a question as to his eligibility to attend the program, but more as a point of opening discussion about how to best help him thrive in the program. They responded to me by telling me that they have not had great experiences in the past with children with disabilities, and that I should pursue another program for him, a response which completely took me by surprise.
I wrote them a letter back, explaining my position and identifying why I was so disappointed in their decision, and they have not contacted me. I am sharing the letter I wrote to them, 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. For I believe we would all agree that Jake deserves so much more.
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 that you would think through things in the same manner as we do.
First off, 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 that 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 need be, but have also understood the importance of community sports and relationships. He has been enrolled in the past in gymnastics, in swimming, in 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 all the research done 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 of the children with whom the child interacts. Lessons on acceptance, respect, diversity, kindness, friendship, and celebrating differences are crucial, and to promote 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 that we treat all people as equal, regardless of race, gender, or disability; and that to do otherwise is discrimination, and is not acceptable in any way, shape, or form.
It is with this ideology in mind that you can imagine my discouragement when I received your email and realized that 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 that 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, that you would deny my child the opportunity to play in your organization based on disability. And on top of that, that it would be a decision that you made 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 the goals of the program: “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 that: “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 that would be 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 that 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.