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Program gets disabled involved in games

James Lee, 32, grips a softball and prepares to throw it before a softball game for Achievers of America at Veterans Memorial Park in Hudson. Lee, who suffers cerebral palsy, also got to bat.

MIKE CAMUNAS | Times

James Lee, 32, grips a softball and prepares to throw it before a softball game for Achievers of America at Veterans Memorial Park in Hudson. Lee, who suffers cerebral palsy, also got to bat.

HUDSON

Claudia Fitzhugh rounds the bases and heads for home. She crosses the plate and there are cheers from everyone at the softball fields at Veterans Memorial Park. All the way around the diamond, this 35-year-old deaf woman was smiling. That smile grows wider, as if she had just won the World Series. Steve Biondo watches all of this and raises his hand, giving Fitzhugh a high five.

This is a typical Wednesday morning for Biondo, founder and president of Achievers of America, a program for handicapped and challenged that offers bowling and softball.

It gives everyone a chance.

"Everyone plays," Biondo said. "Everyone bats, runs and gets a high five. Everyone."

Biondo created the organization in New York in 1998 and then moved a chapter down to Florida in 2001. His son, Raymond, is part of the organization and usually pitches during softball. Though he never specifically created it for his son, Biondo claims, he adds disabilities that don't stop at intellect or physical challenges.

The organization will take anyone struggling with themselves from any place in the bay area.

"Think of people who are overweight," Biondo said. "It's just to get them out and socialize and do something. That's the main goal here.

"It's more than just exercise — it's about gaining self confidence as well."

Biondo likes to brag the main rule is there are no rules. However, when playing, Biondo stresses that while he and volunteers and parents are present, the athletes do everything themselves. They even form their own teams week to week, as well as designating captains.

Even when volunteers are really necessary — say an athlete with cerebral palsy struggles to stand at the plate or needs to be wheeled there — they stay in the background, only offering encouragement.

But the athletes aren't the only ones with smiles.

"What makes me feel good is seeing the parents seeing something that they never thought they would see in their child," Biondo said. "I don't treat them as someone special. I treat them like any other human and I teach them the self esteem they wouldn't get anywhere else in the world."

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Let us know and we may come document it. Tell us about an event, a game, a practice, an outing, a tournament — anything! There's a lot going on in the community and we want to know about it. Contact community sports editor Mike Camunas and tell him what's happening. Call him at (352) 544-1771 or e-mail him at mcamunas@sptimes.com. We live in this community, so let's talk to each other.

Fast facts

To learn more

For more info on Achievers of America, contact Steve Biondo at (727) 868-5084 or www.achieversof
america.info.

Program gets disabled involved in games 01/28/09 [Last modified: Friday, January 30, 2009 12:07am]

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