SOUTH PLAINFIELD - Under the lights of the Police Athletic League (P.A.L.) field, the Police and Fire Departments of South Plainfield came out in force to verse the South Plainfield Recreation Buddy Ball kickball team on Monday, Oct. 28. After the Buddy Ball team defeated their opponents with ease, players were awarded medals and treated to pizza as they celebrated the end of a fun season playing kickball on the turf field behind the P.A.L. Building.
“The South Plainfield Police and Fire Departments coming out to play with us was such a great way to close out our season,” said Buddy Ball Coach Alyssa Errico. “It is so amazing having the community involved with the program!”
“Programs like Buddy Ball just really make me feel joy and wonder watching everyone really get to enjoy their time together,” said Recreation Director Elizabeth Yuras. “The community coming together is just a wonderful thing to see.”
The game began with South Plainfield’s finest in the field as the players each had a turn up at the plate to kick the ball. With determination and great effort, each child catapulted the ball as hard as they could into the field and ran towards first base as parents cheered them on from the sidelines.
“My daughter is seven, and she really enjoyed being around the other children and socializing,” said Caroline Duarte, parent. “She’s very happy.”
“I like to run and I like to play and I like to run a lot,” said seven-year-old Beatriz Duarte, Buddy Ball player. “Guess what I like to do? I like to kick the ball to my friends.”
As the game progressed, a win did not look good for the police and fire team, but they remained optimistic.
“It’s a great time coming out here,” said Sergeant Gary Cassio, Head Coach of the South Plainfield High School Varsity Football Team, adding midway through the game. “We’re going to pull a victory out here. We’re going to pull this out.”
The field was alive that evening as players, their opponents, and buddies had a night of pure joy.
“This is a great event,” said Jim Erdmann, Fire Deptment. “It’s something that I usually look forward to."
“It’s great that the police and firemen took time out of their day to play and there’s a lot of them who came, not just one or two, the field was full,” said Buddy Jessica Cooper, freshman. “It’s nice that the town does this.”
“This has been a great time hanging out with the kids playing kick ball,” said Kenneth Parada, Patrolman and P.B.A. Delegate. “It’s all about the kids, that’s who we’re here for. We’re making sure they’re happy and having a great time.”
The game ended with happy faces on everyone’s parts as the police and firemen lined up to pass each child with a congratulations and a high five. After the game, children sat with their buddies as Errico presented each with a medal for their achievement of a season well done.
“The kickball season went so well!” said Errico. “We had many high school students come out and volunteer, including some girls from the high school basketball team. Everyone had a great time playing.”
Children ages twelve years old and up can volunteer to be buddies. Part of the value of Buddy Ball is to provide opportunities for general education students to get to know children with special needs. The buddies, several of whom are athletes themselves, play alongside the special needs children and help their charges hone their skills.
“Buddy Ball brings us all together as a community for a good cause,” said Deanna DeLisa, Buddy, senior. “I think it’s really special and I really like volunteering. A lot of us play basketball and Coach Errico is our coach.”
"Each week, the athletes came excited to see their teammates and have a good time," Julianne Ferrara, Buddy, senior. "They came so far this season, creating new friendships and learning the aspects of teamwork. Seeing all the parents and members of our community supporting our kickball team was so heartwarming."
“I feel like it’s good to get the little kids involved and let them do something that special ed kids maybe don’t have the opportunity to do,” said Sydney Loiacono, Buddy, sophomore. “Being here, it brings out their real selves, and they can be comfortable enough to be themselves.”
Many parents of children with special needs do not have the opportunity to be their child's biggest fan on the sidelines of a game. Parents of the Buddy Ball team say this program is a wonderful opportunity for everyone involved.
“It’s a great experience, not only for the athletes, but for the assistants as well, who are their classmates and peers," said Keith Both, Board of Education member and parent. "It's also wonderful for the police and the fire department to come out here and show community unity. My son loves it and I love being here to support him.”
"I myself have a special needs child at home, so I’m hoping that one day when he gets a little older, this is something that he’ll get to participate in," said Erdmann. "It will be really nice for me as a parent to actually be on the field with my son and just seeing his face light up with everything. He loves to run, he loves to play sports so this would be something to eventually look forward to as a father being able to be here with my son.”
South Plainfield Recreation Buddy Ball and is free to all special needs children living in South Plainfield ages five years old and up. The goal of the Buddy Ball Program is to provide sports opportunities for the physically and developmentally challenged youth of the community.
The program has been evolving over the past year since Errico took the program over. Last Spring, the team played baseball. Errico decided to try a something different for the Fall.
“After seeing how much the students and parents enjoyed Buddy Ball Baseball last Spring, I was thrilled when everyone asked to do another sport in the Fall,” said Errico. “I wanted to do something different, especially because most of the athletes participate in special Olympics soccer during the Fall. I chose kickball because it was always a fun extracurricular sport to play when I was in school and it also is similar to baseball.”
"I think its amazing that our town provides multiple Buddy Ball teams," said Ferrara. "The kickball team was so much fun for every kid who joined. It is just a fun, relaxed environment."
Errico says the next Buddy Ball season will take place over the winter.
“I am planning on basketball after the high school season is over because I coach for the high school,” said Errico. “I am super excited to start this program in the late winter and as soon as I find out information I will share it with everyone!”
The last Buddy Ball game of Fall came to a close as first responders and children enjoyed talking and laughing with each other over pizza. This was the second time the police and firemen have closed out the Buddy Ball season with a game and has quickly become a much anticipated Buddy Ball tradition.
“This event gets the fire department, policemen and the community together like this, and we don’t get the chance to do it all the time,” said Parada. “It’s a great time!”
“It’s amazing that the policemen and firemen came out,” said Caroline Duarte. “I love the kids to be around police, firemen and military. They have good values. They show support with Individualized Education Program (I.E.P.) kids, which is amazing.”
“I think this is a very nice program, and we all really enjoy it,” said Cooper. “It’s heartwarming to watch the kids play and have so much fun. I love being a part of it.”
“All the guys get something out of this, being able to give back to the community and just be there for these kids,” said Erdmann. “Seeing the smiles on their faces makes it all worth it in the end.”