By T. Scott Boatright
Something special for special children.
It doesn’t get much better than that.
Buddy Ball is a nonprofit organization that opens up the great American pastime of softball to special needs children from the area that range in age from 4 into their 20s whose disabilities prevent or have prevented them from playing on other baseball or teams.
The organization holds Fall and Spring seasons every year. Buddy Ball uses tee ball rules for playing, with players advancing one base at a time. No score is kept. The players are assigned “buddies” who assist them in the game, but the players are encouraged to do as much as they can on their own.
Buddy Ball of Ruston held its first game of the Spring 2023 season last weekend and Mike Kane, former baseball coach at Louisiana Tech and a member of the board of directors for Buddy Ball, said the turnout was better than ever.
“It was a great turnout – we had four or five new kids come out, so we’re getting bigger and bigger and better every year,” Kane said. “It’s really very positive.”
“We decided way back that we weren’t going to put an age limit on them,” Kane said. “As long as they want to come play, they’re invited. Some of those kids that we have, they’ve started out with us 11 years. As long as they want to keep playing, we want them to come out and play.”
A longtime assistant and head coach for Louisiana Tech who has also coached high school baseball in the area, Kane admits he has special feelings about Buddy Ball.
“I’ve told people, this is the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done,” Kane said. “I love these kids. (Retired Ruston veterinarian) Edwin Davis started this. We were sitting at a (Louisiana) Tech baseball game one day and he asked if I would come out and help.
“When he asked me to do that, he gave me a gift. I feel like I’ve been given a gift to go out there and do it. I’m thankful to this day that he asked me to help.”
Kane called watching the growth of Buddy Ball of Ruston since its start simply amazing.
“We could have never done this without a city like Ruston,” Kane said. “This community has supported us so much, from the City Council helping us build our first field and then (Mayor) Ronny Walker helping us get the new wonderful field at the Ruston Sports Complex.
“When you have support like that you can’t help but succeed. We have fantastic people on our Board (of Directors) that are all giving people. Everybody involved doesn’t want anything in return for what they’re doing. They just enjoy these kids and feel like it’s a gift that’s been given to all of us. They’re giving people that give up their time because of what it means to these kids.”
Buddy Ball of Ruston returns to action on Saturday with members of the Ruston High School Student Council serving as buddies with games for younger players starting at 10 a.m. and older players at 11 a.m.
After a break for Easter weekend, Buddy Ball will be back in action on April 15 with students from Louisiana Tech’s Department of Kinesiology along with Lady Techsters team members serving as buddies before the spring season concludes on April 29 with help from the Ruston High football team.
Returning Buddy Ball players do not need to register. There is no fee for Buddy Ball, but participants must be registered, so new players are asked to contact the organization on Facebook on the Buddy Ball of Ruston page or by calling 318-243-3842.
And if they do, Kane promises a special time for all.
“All you have to do is look at their faces and see that smile, and it’s all worthwhile,” Kane said. “And now that Rick (Godley, who handles public address duties while live-streaming the games) announces them at the plate and does the play-by-play where they hear their names when they score – those smiles melt hearts.
“Some of them slide into home plate, anyone who comes out to watch is going to leave with a heart five times bigger than when they got there. Because there’s no way it can’t be. It’s that special of a deal. Watching those kids during the last games of every spring and fall season get their trophies, it’s a special deal.”