Recently, we caught up with Ava Morgan ‘23, about honing her leadership skills through her long-term participation with Buddy Baseball (tag line: “Boys and Girls with Special Needs, Playing Ball with a Buddy”), a program for athletes with special needs. Ava will graduate from Tampa Prep this spring and is planning to pursue a degree in psychology or criminology at either the University of Alabama or Penn State.
TP: How did you get involved with Buddy Baseball?
AM: “When I was 10 years old, I was going to Sunday School to prepare for my Bat Mitzvah and Buddy Baseball had a table set up in the Temple, giving students the opportunity to join, for community service. (To be Bat Mitzvahed you have to have a certain number of hours of community service.)
It appealed to me because I played softball, so it seemed like a perfect match. So, right then I applied to be a Buddy and got assigned my match. And, we’ve been together for 7 years.
TP: Tell us about the experience.
AM: “It’s really fun. You’re put on a team with ten other players and you just get to play baseball! Your Buddy is kind of your shadow through the game and you make sure that they are doing everything. You bat with them, run the bases with them. They get to choose the position that they want to play - it’s not competitive. It’s just fun. The atmosphere is so positive and I’ve become really good friends with my coaches. They’re like a second set of parents.”
TP: Did anything about the experience surprise you?
AM: “How close I became with my Buddy and his family. We have conversations all the time about how school is going, about friends. He used to be scared to talk to people and now his favorite thing is to just have regular conversations. He’ll sing songs to me that he’s learned in school or tell me about new words that he’s learned. We talk about his sister that’s in college. And I talk to his mom like she’s my own mom. She comes to all the games.
He’s 14 now and I’ve really gotten to see how much he’s grown. The first year, he couldn’t hit the ball if it was pitched to him. He could only hit if he used a tee. And now he can hit the ball. And, he’s not scared to talk anymore - the Tampa Bay Rays are a supporter of Buddy Baseball, so we have announcers from the Rays at our games - and now my Buddy will run out there when it’s his turn and talk to the crowd. (laughter). He loves it.”
TP: Why should people get involved with Buddy Baseball?
AM: “First of all, it’s a great organization and it’s a great way to support your community. It has given me a lot of leadership qualities and taught me patience. Kids my age tend to only want to do something if their friends are doing it but I’m showing my two younger sisters that it’s OK to step away from what your friends are doing and to be a leader and get involved with your community.
It’s so easy to get involved. Just visit buddybaseball.org and sign up. It’s such an easy process. They’ll send you all the information, you do a meet & greet, they learn about you and then match you up with your Buddy. You don’t need to know anybody because soon you’ll feel like you’ve got another family.”