VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — Christine and Ryan Ross, owners of Sandbar Surf Bar and Grill, have spent a large majority of their lives surrounded by baseball in one way or another. Growing up, Christine’s Dad was consistently the dedicated coach to her brother’s teams.
Christine and Ryan’s son, Aidan, 13 years old, began playing at a young age in the All-Stars Division of Great Neck Baseball League (GNBL) and eventually moved on to travel baseball. The Ross family has spent every Saturday spring through fall at the ball field, every Major League Baseball season cheering on their favorite professional teams and have always been a self-proclaimed “baseball family.”
The couple has two more sons, Ethan and Caidan. After learning the overwhelming news that Ethan, 6 years old at the time, had special needs, Christine hit what she remembers as a low in her life. The Ross family has always been extremely involved in the baseball world and realizing that Ethan would never be able to experience playing the sport in a school or community league was devastating. Christine is a problem solver by nature and a solutions driven person. She began brainstorming ideas to challenge the status quo so that all special needs children could be given the opportunity to pursue their dreams of playing on a team sport.
For the benefit of Ethan and other special needs children in the local community, Christine reached out to GNBL and pitched the idea of a full-blown special need’s division. In her mind, every child deserves the opportunity to be a child, and what better way to make that a reality than by playing baseball. The GNBL sponsors, including Craig Colucci and Renee Lupien, absolutely loved the idea and immediately began working with Christine to bring the Champions Division to life. Opening day for the Champions Division was three years ago, and this spring will mark their sixth successful season.
The Champions Division welcomes children with a range of disabilities, ages 4-23 years old or anyone who remains in a school setting. The mission is to provide an environment that enhances the participants’ self-esteem and physical mobility, and one that embodies the spirit of teamwork and community while participating in America’s favorite pastime — baseball. Currently, there are two Champions Division teams comprised of nearly 40 children. To build awareness for the Champions Division, Christine and the GNBL established Champions Day, a dedicated Saturday each season that focuses on driving spectators to the games. In the past, cotton candy, popcorn and balloons have created a draw and a spike in interest.
Each child registered in the Champions Division is paired up with a GNBL player or travel league player who volunteers to play the games using a buddy system. After every game, Christine personally calls the parents of the child who had the best game of their life and the parents of the child who had the worst game of their life and has a lively conversation with each. Both are equally as important for life lessons. For many parents of special needs children, these are “firsts,” things other parents may take for granted.
Christine’s reach for helping kids with special needs has not stopped with baseball. She is also the founder of Aid Another, a nonprofit organization that aims to provide “inclusive educational, cultural and recreational programs that are designed to improve quality of life, reduce isolation and enhance social settings for special needs children.” A few of the programs offered by Aid Another include creative arts, sports, resource development, photography, vocational and lifestyle development, and more. Aid Another is always looking for new local partnerships and more information can be found on their website, www.aidanother.com.
The spring Champions Division is currently open for registration, and thanks to the generosity of one buddy volunteer, Max Salomonsky, the fee is waived for all participants this season. Max’s acceptance of all children and cultures led him to design a mitzvah fundraiser project for his bar mitzvah. He raised over $2,000 for the Champions League. For more information on the Champions Division or to register for a spring team, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.gnbaseball.com. Play ball!
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