Beep baseball clinic offers sports option for visually impaired students

By Madina Toure

Students from Queens and other city schools participated in the first annual Beep Baseball Kids Clinic in Flushing Tuesday morning by wearing blindfolds during the game to support and encourage visually impaired students.

Roughly 120 students representing 10 schools from Queens, Manhattan, Brooklyn and the Bronx, 40 of whom had problems with their vision, took part in the event at the city Parks Department’s Al Oerter Center.

Among the players were 30 third-grade students from PS 162 John Golden School in Bayside. One of those students is legally blind.

Beep baseball involves visually impaired individuals who play baseball by listening to the beep of a ball and the buzz of a base.

The students who had normal sight were given blindfolds so they could share the experience with the students who were visually impaired.

Diane Ditchfield, a retired special education teacher who came to support her grandson Isaiah, 9, a student at PS 162, said she appreciated the diversity of the students.

“This is great for the kids,” Ditchfield said. “Everybody’s accepting…and they get a sense of what it’s like to be visually impaired.”

Charran Persaud, 19, a blind student from PS 721 in the Bronx, said the clinic was “so good.”

“I like how you walk on the mats to hear the noise,” Persaud said. “I’m learning how to walk straight.”

Yuki Yamada, director of the city Department of Education’s Office of School Wellness Programs for District 75, a citywide special education district, said it helps students mingle with one another.

“They get to socialize with other peers, they get to socialize with the volunteers,” Yamada said.

The clinic was broken up into four different stations where the kids had to catch the ball a Lions Quest volunteer rolled over to them based on the beeping sound and walk across a mat in a straight line by following the origin of sound.

Late last year Ralph Gonzalez, chairman of the Queens/Brooklyn chapter of Lions Quest NYC, a program of Lions Club International Foundation that is committed to the healthy development of young people through social and emotional learning, service and substance prevention, contacted the DOE’s Office of School Wellness Programs, seeking to support programs for visually impaired students. They provided the equipment as well as teenage volunteers to lead the clinic.

Yamada spoke with Lions Club and it was decided that the clinic would take place at MCU Park in Coney Island, the home of the Brooklyn Cyclones, a minor league baseball team. But since the timeline and the approval process took too long, they decided to create a four-way partnership. The Parks Department provided the venue; the Lions Club, the equipment and volunteers;, the Brooklyn Cyclones provided the T-shirts and hats for participants; and the District 75 office got schools to participate.

“It’s a true collaboration between the Parks Department, New York City DOE, Lions Club and the Brooklyn Cyclones,” Yamada said.

Next year, the plan is to have the clinic take place at MCU Park.

“Some of the Brooklyn Cyclones players are going to participate next year,” Yamada said. “All these kids, they need to have somebody to look up to.”

Reach reporter Madina Toure by e-mail at mtoure@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4566.