EASLEY — Easley’s YMCA has developed a program with a special purpose for special needs children, a basketball league designed to fit their lives.
According to Program Director Heather Cirincione, the program was developed out of necessity.
“There were lots of talks over a year or so with different members and we also talked to the Children’s Services Council,” Cirincione said. “There aren’t a lot of programs like this in the area for these kids. There were members willing to volunteer to help as ‘buddies’ for the kids and its’ been fantastic.”
The special needs basketball program consists of two separate parts. The beginning of the session is composed of a lesson, with each child encouraged to participate at whatever level they are capable. The remainder is composed of the kids just playing the game. Each child is paired with a volunteer buddy who is there to help encourage them.
“It’s a team sport environment where they get exercise and are encouraged to learn the game but at their pace,” said Cirincione. “It’s a place they get to belong and for the parents, they have a chance to develop some friendships and relationships with other parents who deal with the same hurdles every day.”
Tresh Crosby is one of the parents whose child is benefitting from the special needs program and in her estimation, her 9 year old son benefits from it as well.
“It’s a place our son can play basketball and he fits in with the other kids,” Crosby said. “He has a hard time following instructions but here that’s okay, it’s not necessarily about that.”
Cirincione stressed the freedom the kids experience as well.
“They’re not expected to play at a certain level, just to have fun and learn as much as they can,” Cirincione said. “Some of the kids don’t do well with the lesson part but have a great time playing.”
Crosby also talked about what the program means to the parents.
“I like being able to get out and meet the other parents, we have such a good time just watching our kids be kids,” Crosby said. “We also get to talk about the stressors we experience as special needs parents and how we cope. It’s nice to have a place to relax and just enjoy ourselves.”
Cirincione developed the idea for the program based on her experiences as an aquatic instructor in Pickens where she taught swimming to special needs children. The league is designed for children ages 5-12, with this year’s inaugural group making improvements.
“Most will sit in a circle now, and that may not seem like a big deal, but for these kids it is,” Cirincione said. “Ultimately, whatever happens, happens. We just want an atmosphere where the goal is to learn basketball, as much as they can, and just have fun.”
The Easley YMCA urges anyone who is interested in volunteering for this program or any other to contact them directly for information.