Special needs softball
Behind the success of the Dubai Challengers Little League team
When Faiz Moosa started a baseball little league for special needs children in 2012, he had no idea how successful it would become
Growing up in Atlanta, Georgia, Faiz Moosa played baseball, so when he moved to Dubai four years ago, he was keen to keep up the sport, and joined the Dubai Challengers Little League. His youngest brother also started playing with the well-established league, and the whole family became involved with training sessions happening up to three times a week, although Faraz, the middle brother, who has Downs Syndrome, was always a spectator. Faiz remembers, “He was always just watching from the side-lines and wasn’t given the opportunity to play, so I came up with an idea and approached the President of the Dubai Challenges League, Greg Sproule. I asked him what he thought about creating an opportunity for kids with special needs to play baseball in Dubai”. It turned out that he, and the whole of the league thought it was a wonderful idea.
Every Saturday at 11.30am the children of Dubai with special needs are now given the opportunity to play baseball, to learn how to hit and catch the ball, to mix with the rest of the teams and to have fun. “Every child is partnered with a ‘buddy’”, Faiz explains, “Most of the buddies are from the other teams involved in the league, but sometimes I bring friends from school. They all have a really great time, although at first, when they first come out to help, not many of them know what to do, but as the time goes on they know exactly what to do. The bonds that they form with these kids are incredible to see, all the kids get so much out of the sessions.”
Joe Lebrato, coach and co-founder of the Challengers League supports Faiz in this inspirational endeavour, as do the parents of the players. For the parents of the special needs children, the hours they spend at the fields are akin to a support group, and as Faiz’s father, Mustaq says, “Baseball is just an excuse to get together. For the parents of a special needs child, we all know the pressures involved, but for that hour or longer we can sit back, relax, have a picnic or whatever and it becomes an event for everyone to enjoy. We need that release. Here we have a real community of parents who are there to help and support each other.” Shalini, Faiz’s mother adds “it’s also an opportunity to share things with each other, to share information. It has a really comforting atmosphere plus it helps the siblings of special needs children, as it can be hard for them too. They see so many other siblings with children of differing challenges and they realise they are not alone. To see these children smile, run and play like regular kids is wonderful. One of our boys is autistic and he can really hit the ball. The parents are often surprised by what their kids can do”.
The league tries to bring awareness of their existence to the wider special needs community and works closely with other groups including the Special Family Support Group. “We have collaborated with them many times as they don’t really play any baseball, so now they come to us and play. They are older children and adults but we still partner them with a buddy to help” Faiz explains. “One of the purposes of our group is to spread awareness within the special needs community and to reach out to them. We have on average between 14-16 players, more when the Special Family Support group come. We want more children with special needs to join in, to come and play and to mix with all the other children because we think it is important”.
This is the second year that the group have been meeting and playing baseball, thanks to the initiative of Faiz, and the support of the Challengers League, but he states, “I never thought it would be as successful as it is. From last year to this, we have double the amount of children registered with us, and Faraz likes playing baseball now. He likes all the attention he is getting, that’s for sure! I am really pleased it’s all working out, but my proudest moment so far was when he started catching a ball for the first time. That was pretty special”. The league is always looking for new players and buddies, and if you need convincing, then just watch the video on their Facebook page, because as their motto states “Everyone deserves to play ball”.
Dubai Challengers Little League, Saturdays 11.30am. SZR exit 47 between Al Khail Road and Meydan. email@example.com or www.facebook.com/dubaimiracleleague (055 943 9180)
Time Out Dubai,