SOUTH PLAINFIELD, NJ - The South Plainfield Recreation Department’s Buddy Ball Basketball Clinic is in full swing. Holding their first practice on Wednesday, September 12th from 6pm-7pm at the South Plainfield PAL Building, located at 1250 Maple Avenue, the free program is open to all special needs children living in South Plainfield ages 5 years old and up. Buddy Ball Basketball Clinics will take place every Wednesday through October 17th with the goal being to provide sports opportunities for the physically and developmentally challenged youth of the community.
“As the coach, I really want to run practices like I would run a High School or Middle School practice, just modified so players feel like they are truly on a team,” said Kevin Hughes, Director of the South Plainfield Recreation Department. “We’re doing everything from dribbling, passing and shooting, to defense and rebounding.”
During practices, each special needs child (player) is paired with a volunteer (buddy). Buddies must be at least 12 years old and their role is to provide players with individual assistance, guidance and encouragement.
“The main reason why the program has gotten off to such a good start is that the buddies have been absolutely amazing,” said Hughes. “The impact they are making when they are working with the players is something really special. I know for myself, never have I given or received so many meaningful high-fives!”
“I found out about volunteering for this program when I signed my younger brother up to be on the team,” said Julianne Ferraro, Buddy and Junior at South Plainfield High School. “I am happy to have the experience to work with children who all have different disabilities.”
The program is run and coached by Hughes, who in addition to being South Plainfield’s Recreation Director, has extensive experience as a coach and was trained as an Adaptive Physical Education Teacher early in his career. Offering players the opportunity to experience the normalcy of being on a team of peers, the players learn new skills and have fun.
“I saw at the first basketball practice exactly what you would see at any other practice - parents looking proud, coaches intent on teaching and children nervous, but trying their best at something brand new,” said Councilwoman Christine Faustini.
The prospect of having an ongoing Buddy Ball program is exciting for many South Plainfield residents. Parent John Bentivenga approached the South Plainfield Recreation Commission last spring about bringing a Buddy Ball program to South Plainfield and parent meetings followed.
“Councilwoman Faustini and myself met with a group of parents,” said Hughes. “After listening and talking with them, we knew the Borough/Recreation Department had to do something.”
“The Recreation Commission was very excited by the prospect of hosting such a program,” said Faustini. “They tasked Kevin Hughes and myself with exploring possibilities on how to most efficiently start a Buddy Ball program. We brainstormed to find the quickest and clearest path for special needs children to immediately become involved in a recreational sport.”
Faustini and Hughes consulted with Buddy Ball coaches from other towns as well as parents in the community to better understand the expectations and logistics of starting a Buddy Ball program.
“I thought about it and came up with basketball as the first sport because I knew we had a gym to use,” added Hughes. “Also, by holding the clinic in the ‘off season’ of the sport, we would be able to get some high school players to be buddies. And that is exactly what happened.”
“Director Kevin Hughes volunteered to lend his basketball expertise to the program as head coach, so for sure the players and their buddies are in the hands of an excellent, experienced coach,” added Faustini.
As buddies and players interact, they learn invaluable lessons from one another. The players are excited to be a part of the team as many of the children have never experienced playing a team sport before. Their buddies are eager to help and get to know them.
“I think this program is important because it brings together the special needs community while teaching teamwork and helping the kids make new friends,” said Ferraro.
“I could not be more proud of the players for coming to the practices and really trying,” said Hughes. “They appear to enjoy themselves too. We do have some players who are not able to do all of the drills, but they are there, in the gym, getting exercise and are still part of it.”
Each clinic finishes with a team huddle, words of encouragement and congratulations for a job well done. Hughes says he hopes to continue Buddy Ball Clinics for other sports in the future.
“I firmly believe that every child should have the opportunity to fall in love with a sport and the environment to do so,” said Faustini. “Many, many thanks to those who come out to volunteer and everyone who helped to make Buddy Ball happen in South Plainfield!”
For more information about Buddy Ball, to become a volunteer Buddy or if your child would like to become part of the team, stop by the South Plainfield PAL Building, located at 1250 Maple Avenue, or call (908) 756-7466.