MAHOPAC, N.Y. There were smiles all around last month when special needs kids were paired up with general education students to play baseball and eat hotdogs together for what is known as the Smiles Program.
The idea for the event came from Mahopac parent Nicole Burt about eight years ago when she and her children were in Sycamore Park and saw a child in a wheelchair. Her kids went over and played ball with him.
“He felt like the king of the world when he left,” Burt recalled during an interview last season. “I thought, I want to make kids happy like that.”
Burt’s son, Charlie, was a star football player for the MHS varsity. He was born without a left hand.
“I know from my own personal experience [what it’s like to be an outsider] because of how people stare at my son,” she said. “And now look at how far he’s come. He was a star football player and now he’s going to college.
“We came up with the idea of special needs students and the baseball players partnering up and doing a buddy system and learning baseball,” she added. “Afterward, we have a barbecue. The main purpose is to show how special needs children are the same as general education children. They find a common ground—baseball and food.”
Mahopac Sports Association supports the event by providing hats and shirts for the players.
“We are all human beings and we like the same things,” Burt said. “We are all a little different somehow, but it doesn’t matter. Just go out there and have fun.”