Ascension’s Inclusive League scores big points

Kimberly Fortner, Contributing Writer
Luke Shinn, waits on the referee to blow his whistle so he can get in the game.

The Ascension Parish Inclusive League held its second basketball game of the season at Galvez Middle School on Jan. 22. APIL (pronounced “apple”) is funded by the Ascension Parish Park Program and is designed for children of all abilities, ages 4-13. Director Betsey Baldwin explains, “It's all about fun. It is non-competitive and all-inclusive.”

APIL's most successful season is underway with 39 participants on four teams. The league had only 15 basketball participants last year, but now the program is bursting at the seams and has made quite an impact in Ascension Parish.

Leader Betsey Baldwin says, “We never expected the league to come along so fast. It just snowballed into something bigger than we anticipated.”

In fact, the growth has highlighted the need for additional volunteers.

Baldwin is a beloved Physical Education teacher and basketball coach at Galvez Middle. Her creativity and dedication are the genesis of this program and ultimately, the reason for its success. Her inspiration for forming APIL was her cousin, Abram, who has Cerebral Palsy and now plays in the league. Baldwin's collaboration with the parish’s Sherry Kinchen and a grant got the league off of the ground 3 years ago.

AIPL now has its own ball field in St. Amant Park where the T-ball games and volunteer meetings take place. Last year, Baldwin was the recipient of Blue Cross Blue Shield's Angel Award and $20,000 to further her cause. Because of this award, registration and uniforms for the players are free and they were also able to buy sports equipment.

The program's success is not only measured by its notable growth but by the happiness of its participants. Mila Trammell is an affable player who, seemingly, could not have possibly had more fun. She was observed tossing the ball with the referees in between games. She says her favorite part of the day was, “shooting the ball into the basketball goal.”

K'Von Albert admits, “I like everything about the game.” He is a reigning two-time gold medalist for the Special Olympics in the 100-meter wheelchair race and the softball throw. K'Von commands the court with speed as his ally.

APIL is a community effort with countless most valuable players. The league is strongly supported by Parish President Tommy Martinez and Recreation Director Garney Gautreau. Volunteer and Parish Program Coordinator Beth Bertrand admits, “This program is the 'APIL' of our eye and very near and dear to all of our hearts not just because it involves handicapped children but because it is for all children and one of the few programs of its kind.”

Another humble volunteer, Carl Seiner, shows his enthusiasm for the league while he is busy with the Ascension Youth Basketball Association. He donated the game shirts, shares AYBA referees and accommodates the league with prime gymnasium time slots. Most of all, his presence and cheers from the sidelines echo his support.

Ben Joiner, a spirited volunteer who has special needs, never misses a chance to encourage and give the kids some game day advice. The league has soaring potential as so many willing supporters are standing up and stepping forward on behalf of the children.

Miranda Colligan, Baldwin's right hand and executive assistant for APIL, is also a parent and donates her time to the program's triumph. She says of A.P.I.L.'s policy, “Everybody has an equal opportunity to play and to be kids.”

Many parents are glad to see the rise in community awareness of kids with disabilities and their needs. Candice Nemmo, parent and coach, is excited about the Kidz Kove Discovery Park opening saying, “We are all looking forward to the park being built. We are all supporters.”

APIL parents are embracing being cheerleaders as their children participate in recreational activities. Parent Deney Parker expresses, “I think the league is great. When regular education kids get exposed to special needs kids, they are more accepting. They are not afraid of them.” Kids with disabilities and kids without disabilities are teammates in the game, and in life. This program fosters a camaraderie that will certainly continue off the court.

Baldwin has no doubt that the program will expand in the future. More leagues, soccer, and track and field teams could eventually be added. An APIL facility may also be in the scope of possibilities. Optimism and perseverance are the power players in the advancement of this all-inclusive league. With empathetic Baldwin leading the way, APIL has already scored major points.

Betsey Baldwin emphasizes, “The kids are APIL. They take ownership of their league.” What matters most to APIL is that every child is part of a team and no player is in charge of warming the bench. For these children, it's not about winning or losing, but that they got to play the game.

For more information on APIL or other recreational programs in Ascension Parish, go to www.ascensionparish.net . APIL can also be found at www.facebook.com at “Ascension Parish Inclusive League.” Interested players can email myapilsports@gmail.com. To volunteer, email Betsey.baldwin@yahoo.com .

APIL Director Betsey Baldwin coaches a green team member on the sidelines.