FALCONER – The third annual Exceptional Stars Athletics (ESA) baseball game represented a sense of normalcy Sunday afternoon at Lions Field in the Village of Falconer.
That’s according to ESA Director Rich Bianco, who spoke with WNY News Now following the two-inning contest featuring dozens of students on each team.
Bianco says last year’s game was held in August, at which point mask-wearing was required for the participants.
The Falconer Central School District teacher explains that this year’s game represented a welcome change from last year.
“It was nice to be able to get back to a little bit of normalcy. Baseball is a sport that is open right now in the state,” Bianco said. “We were really lucky that we could see the smiles on the kids faces this year….This is the best day of the year (for me).”
At each ESA event, Bianco says that the athletes have a “buddy” participate with them. The organization’s mission statement says that children with special needs are given the opportunity to participate in athletic events that they normally wouldn’t be able to play in.
Bianco says that there is no losing at these events.
“Everybody is a champion. Everybody is a winner,” Bianco said. “All of these kids are in the same boat together. Our buddies are exceptional. It’s really pulled them out of their comfort zone. But as we’ve done more and more events, they’ve become more comfortable. They’re more effective working with the kids. It’s just a riot, everyone has a great time.”
The proceeds from this year’s game were donated to the Mike Myles Scholarship Fund. Myles, a Bemus Point man who spent years coaching in the community, passed away last year following a battle with cancer.
Bianco says that the $5,000 raised surpassed last year’s total, which he says is “amazing.”
The Director says that the ESA has a couple of events coming up soon. On June 25, the ESA will be attending a Jamestown Tarp Skunks game after a community member only identified as a “generous donor” purchased tickets for all of the participants.
In July, Bianco says a game of frisbee golf and a fire safety day with the Falconer Fire Department will take place.