City of Troy

On June 10, The “Wonder league” gathered at Troy Fairgrounds Park to play their last game of the season. 

This special league is comprised of youth four to 18 years of age who have overcome various physical and behavioral disabilities. The incredible resilience and enthusiasm displayed by these athletes is the envy of even the most competitive leagues.

Troy Baseball and Softball Association has always prided itself on inclusion, from helping the communities most elite athletes get started in their athletic career to ensuring that all of Troy’s youth has an affordable recreational activity to keep summertime boredom at bay. Their goal has always been to harness team building and sportsmanship that last a lifetime. 

Five years ago, it was brought to the attention of Rachel Dunard that some of the community’s young athletes were still disenfranchised. She was compelled to act.  As a 21-year patient of Shriners Hospital she is no stranger to the isolation that can accompany disabilities. 

Dunard and Rick Kavanagh combined forces and coaching expertise to organize the “Wonder League”. With the unwavering support of volunteers, friends and families of the athletes, and “Buddies”, young athletes within the Troy Baseball and Softball Association make the Wonder league a continued success. 

A young boy named Ryder said, “I love baseball” when asked what his favorite part of playing on the team. Ryder’s mother glowed as she explained that he is a child of few words, knowing that the words that he does use carry a lot of weight. 

Upon arrival to the last game of their six week-long season the athletes were presented with medals for their accomplishments through the season and photographed by Kavanagh. 

One of the senior members of the team, Jacy, insisted that her parents joined her in the spotlight for her individual photo opportunity. Her accomplishment was one that she demanded be shared with her greatest fans. This sportsmanship and gratitude displayed by Jacy has stemmed from a lifetime of being part of the most steadfast and sturdy team through trial and tribulation, family.

When the teams congregated to the ball field after photos were taken and medals were awarded at the pavilion there was excitement in the air. The players have had six weeks this year to find their groove and establish their own personal style of strategic play to suit their own unique needs. Some wheelchair bound athletes have figured out how to smack the ball off the tee all the way to the outfielders by merely lowering the tee. Some athletes utilized the support of their parents while up to bat before grabbing hold of their walkers and zipping to first base. 

Jacy knocked the ball to the outfield and embraced Rachel at first base where Dunard was playing the role of first base coach and cheerleader. This will be Jacy’s last year playing on the league, though many suspects she will return in some capacity. To celebrate her last trip around the bases she insisted that Dunard join her. 

In an interview after her run and celebration with her parents and team, when asked how it felt to score a run for her team, she exclaimed, “feels good”. When asked “What has been your favorite part of this league?”, her response was, “I love baseball!”

Halfway through the game the skies opened and huge raindrops pelted the park, looking out at the players a spectator never could have known without experiencing the precipitation themselves.  They played right through without any acknowledgment of the disturbance of weather in an impressive show of resilience. 

A crowd of about 75 gathered in support of the “Wonder League” teams, Kavanagh pointed out that the rain must have kept the crowds away, which was a surprise because this crowd seemed comparable to that of any championship game within the regular Troy league but with far more enthusiasm.  

The families and friends of these athletes were decked out in custom tee shirts. “Wonder League” is far more than a sports organization, it is a support system and a much-needed opportunity for normalcy. The same cheerleaders that these children have had at their hospital bedside, through ups and downs, operations, needle pricks and diagnosis can hoot and holler for great achievements on the ball field. Swinging a bat, fielding a ball, and rounding bases is nothing for athletes who have overcome disabilities, but it is a norm that they now get to enjoy. 

The “Wonder League” is the best show of inspiration and an example of what a tight-knit community is all about. As the game ended and the rain subsided the sun began to shine and a magnificent rainbow appeared on the horizon like poetic reinforcement of the awe that players, volunteers, and spectators all experienced closing out the season.

Throughout the interviews conducted the athletes shined when they explained that they “…love baseball” or even a couple badly timed interviews where some players expressed that they really love potato chips because snacks are available to the athletes to replenish after every game, it is clear that they love being included. 

The fourth season and fifth year (due to covid-19 concerns) of “Wonder League “has seen its participation double. In 2017 there were 12 players that would compete with teams from the regular Troy baseball and softball association to 24 athletes that competed regularly this season. 

With demand for a fall ball “Wonder League” Kavanagh and Dunard are ready to make it happen. Fall ball has not been ironed out yet for details, but can be expected to begin at the beginning of September and end mid-October. 

Anyone that has a child interested in playing, want to volunteer, or are interested in sponsoring please reach out to Troy Softball and Baseball Association.