For the last 11 years, Two Rivers Buddy Ball has provided the special needs community in the greater Owensboro area with a healthy, upbeat outlet for those wishing to participate in athletics. For special needs individuals ranging from five to 20 years old, founder Billy Shain and his volunteer board of directors have consistently offered a welcoming athletic environment for more than a decade.
Through free sports events and leagues, Shain and his team offer encouraging experiences to those with physical and mental disabilities. Buddy Ball’s fun-first motto is “chasing the dream, not the competition”, a platform on which their infectious environment truly shines.
Shain also serves as president of Two Rivers Buddy Ball. He first got the idea for the organization when his two boys participated in a similar program in Henderson County, Kentucky, which is no longer in operation. The need to continue the program was a felt-need he couldn’t resist addressing.
“In 2006, my boys played baseball in Henderson with a similar organization after trying Special Olympics and feeling like they didn’t fit in,” Shain said. “They loved that season, but unfortunately, the Henderson crew disbanded shortly after that first year. I spent the following two years trying to organize Buddy Ball in this community before it was ready to launch. The first year we started with just baseball and had 43 kids participate. Pretty soon parents were asking for more sports and so we began adding until it became nearly year-round.”
And add they did, to the tune of seven programs for over 150 participants annually from up to nine area counties. The programs the non-profit hosts are basketball, swimming, cheerleading, soccer, baseball, fishing and bowling. Bowling is the only league that tracks scoring, keeping with the theme of making the environment more about promoting happiness and joy above competitiveness and winning.
“Jamie and Hunter, my two boys, were the inspiration for this program,” Shain said. “They don’t participate anymore, but the smiles keep me coming back. We have three rules in Buddy ball — have fun, don’t get hurt and go home tired. The kids come out here and experience no judgment and it’s an awesome thing to be a part of.”
The life lessons instilled in the participants range from taking turns and patience to serving each other and valuing equality. Buddy Ball has served as a great learning experience for all involved, extending beyond the participants to volunteers from all over the community.
Shortly After Buddy Ball began, high school students from area high schools began to take an interest in helping. What started with only a few volunteers has now blossomed into a popular way for many students to gain community service hours, with each student feeling like they get more out of the program than they give.
Though many students have been said to be “a blessing” to their buddies in the program, one stands out in the crowd. Daviess County High School senior Karlee Hoffman, this year’s recipient of the Gatorade Runner of the Year award, given to the best runner in the state, recently took advantage of a giving opportunity by blessing Shain’s brainchild.
“When I won the Gatorade award this year they told me that part of it was a $1,000 grant to give back to a non-profit organization in the community,” Hoffman said. “I heard about Buddy Ball from some of the students at DC who participate in it and I decided I wanted to give to them. I contacted Billy and he told me that they offer all of their programs completely free which made donating to them a no-brainer.”
Shain says that the group is always looking for more participants volunteers, and registration for leagues is simple and pain-free.
To follow in Karlee’s footsteps and donate or to stay up to date with what is happening at Two Rivers Buddy Ball, connect with them on their Facebook page.