D’Ambrosio Organizes Athletic Clinics for Children With Disabilities

Kevin was shy and hesitant three years ago when he met the volunteers at American Sign Language (ASL) Sports during his first baseball clinic at the Beverly School for the Deaf. He had never engaged in any organized sports before, let alone played baseball. Within a few months of joining the program, however, Kevin wrote to ASL Sports informing them that he had joined a baseball league on his own. Since becoming an avid baseball player, he has attended nearly all of ASL Sports’ events. Anthony D’Ambrosio ’14 founded ASL Sports in 2008; ASL sports is a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing all children with physical or cognitive impairments the opportunity to engage in a wide range of sports as a fun way to stay active. “While a major part of ASL Sports’s mission is to give kids basic athletic skills, a much more important aspect revolves around empowerment. We want every participant to realize that he or she can play sports, regardless of what he or she has been told before. Realizing that you can catch that ball, score that basket or run the bases affects children in many different ways, and leads them to approach more than just sports with confidence,” said D’Ambrosio. The organization has successfully hosted over 36 basketball, baseball and soccer clinics over the past five years, in which hundreds of children with disabilities have participated. “Catching a baseball for the first time may seem insignificant for some people, but for a lot of the kids we work with, that [act] goes beyond the game of just baseball. It really shows them that they can achieve something if they work for it,” said D’Ambrosio. D’Ambrosio also hopes that the participants will learn values such as teamwork and optimism by interacting with each other and volunteers while engaging in physical activities. “It is socially ingrained in people that it is okay that a lot of these [physically disabled] children are not provided the same opportunities as children without disabilities are,” said D’Ambrosio. “I have close family members who are affected by physical disability, and several of my friends are members of the deaf community… And disenfranchisement stings—especially when it affects the people closest to you,” wrote D’Ambrosio in an e-mail to The Phillipian. Having been raised in a household that values sports and exercise, D’Ambrosio realized the importance of engaging in a team sport. “Participating in athletics is the quintessential way kids first integrate amongst their peers. It serves as a place where children can communicate and interact with the community. But a lot of the kids we work with don’t have that opportunity elsewhere,” he said. ASL Sports has hosted free clinics and events in various New England communities. A typical ASL Sports clinic hosts about 25 to 45 participants with 15 to 20 volunteers and lasts anywhere between two to four hours, according to D’Ambrosio. Trained physical therapists and health professionals are present at all clinics. Working with Partners in Development, Inc., a nonprofit organization that provides medical services in poor communities, ASL has also taken its first step in expanding abroad by hosting eight soccer clinics in Guatemala this past summer. “A lot of the kids we worked with in Guatemala had never been able to participate in anything public before because they are just frowned upon socially. A lot of the parents didn’t want the people to know that their children were born with hearing disabilities or any other disabilities,” said D’Ambrosio. The organization is currently assisting the Beverly School for the Deaf in establishing a Miracle League team in North Shore, MA. It has successfully administered several games over summer, and plans to continue hosting games this fall as well. Miracle League is a baseball league for children with mental and physical disabilities, according to D’Ambrosio. In addition to fostering a friendly and nurturing environment for children with disabilities, the organization hopes that working with the participants will instill a sense of community and civic duty among the volunteers as well. “We are always looking to bring new members aboard the ‘ASL Sports Team.’ Whether a first-time volunteer decides to return to the organization after his or her first clinic or volunteer somewhere else in a community, we have done our job,” D’Ambrosio said. Through both corporate sponsorships and grassroots donations, the organization has raised over $50,000 in the past five years. The fund is primarily used to host sports clinics all across New England, build new facilities and donate to local schools and organizations, according to D’Ambrosio. The board of ASL Sports consists of ten teenagers, including D’Ambrosio, from different public and private schools in Massachusetts, such as Governor’s Academy and Horace Mann School. Fundraising events and basketball clinics usually occur during the winter months, while soccer and baseball clinics take place during the fall, spring and summer, according to D’Ambrosio. Besides the sports clinics, ASL Sports also hosts parties, fundraisers and other events for the deaf community in particular.