The Alternative Baseball Organization (ABO) has spent the last five years working to bring the love of baseball to those with autism that might not have had the chance to play before, and it is eyeing the possibility of a team in Highland County.
Founded by Taylor Duncan, who is on the autism spectrum himself, the ABO’s mission statement is to “provide an encouraging environment to promote personal growth and development for teens and adults (ages 15 and older) with autism and other special needs through America’s pastime — baseball.”
Duncan, from Dallas, Georgia, started the ABO after years of not being able to take part in baseball programs. After those years of continuous denial, he traveled the Southeast areas of the country looking for instruction from people in baseball and soft pitch softball. After some of these sessions, he wondered why there weren’t more opportunities for those on the spectrum.
He said on his website (https://sites.google.com/view/taylorcduncan/home), “I soon realized it was time to stand up for a population who, in many areas, are severely underserved for equal opportunity. It was time to start a new movement and inspire change within the sport of baseball.”
Following that idea, Duncan held the first ABO practice the first week of March in 2016. He said the program started with six players in an exurb in Powder Springs, Georgia, and by the end of 2017 had two teams, thanks to the word of mouth. The program currently has more than 25 teams in 13 states, including teams Columbus, Ohio, and Louisville, Kentucky, and looks for players both with experience in baseball and without. He said it does not discriminate.
“This is a problem that’s really national because, really, as I live on the autism spectrum, as I grew and started Alternative Baseball down here, I realized that there was a big issue with the number of services that are easily available in rural, suburban and urban communities alike… There’s evidence to show that there’s not enough services for adults with disabilities after they graduate out of high school because after they graduate, the school system no longer has to provide the services for them.”
The ABO plays just like Major League Baseball, with wood bats, base stealing, leadoffs and the infield fly rule. It also differentiates itself from other leagues for people on the autism spectrum by not using “buddies” while playing. The only thing the league asks of its players is to bring a glove and be willing to learn.
Duncan said the reason the ABO chose to have the same rules as the MLB is because of the need to have options for everyone.
“It’s not that we promote ourselves as better than everyone else,” he said. “It’s that there needs to be more options to where, for those that feel like the ones with assistance would help them better, fantastic. But there needs to be something to where they can play by traditional rules as well.”
He also said teams only need one or two people to be a coach/manager, then the ABO would like some assistant coaches as well, plus as an umpire, a photographer and a videographer.
Duncan calls the ABO a baseball experience because it’s about building the players’ social skills, learning to work together as a team and building friendships with others that are on the field. He also said that thanks to ABO, people might have felt encouraged for the first time.
“Basically, some of them have wanted to get behind the wheel of a vehicle, they want to go out and try to find employment, all because they know that there is somewhere for them to be successful,” Duncan said. ”It’s not that people don’t want them to be successful. It’s just there is just such a lack of awareness out there, really, nationwide. I mean, we’ve done better with that in recent years, but we’ve still got a ways to go and with that, too, and between the social and physical benefits of playing American’s pastime as well as learning all the rest of the social skills associated with it as well with working together as a team, the benefits are pretty much unlimited.”
Reach Jacob Clary at 937-402-2570.