It’s so much more than baseball. It’s about family.
On August 3, Challenged Athletes Participating in Sports, better known as CAPS, made its long awaited return as 70 athletes and their coaches gathered on the diamonds of the Boys and Girls Club on Franklin Street in the City of Tonawanda for Opening Night of the baseball season.
“As much as this is the world to them it’s the world to me. I think I missed them more than they missed me,” board president Kevin Schrader said with a smile.
“They’re the inspiration. That’s why we do it. That’s why we come out here and how happy we are to see each other again.”
It was the first CAPS gathering since the Covid-19 pandemic put the country on hold in March of 2020.
“It’s nice to see everybody,” said Nick Feeterman, who has been part of CAPS since day one.
Born out of the challenger division of the Tonawanda American Little League, the program that gives physically and mentally challenged kids and adults a chance to take part in sports has been active since 1990.
And is the inspiration for similar leagues all over WNY.
While CAPS gives, it’s challenged participants the all-important chance to build confidence and self-esteem through athletics it’s so much more. CAPS is a safe haven from a world that isn’t always kind to the athletes in this program. It’s a place to gather in a social atmosphere and just share a laugh with friends.
“It’s great being back. It’s been a part of our summers forever,” said original CAPS player, Tim Meinzer.
“It just felt all wrong without it.”
When CAPS was forced to go on pause due to Covid it left a void in the lives of the players who looked forward to coming together each week. Not having that weekly in person connection was difficult on everyone.
“We stayed in touched on Facebook a little bit,” Feeterman said.
CAPS is more than baseball. It’s basketball, floor hockey, football skills and drills. It’s monthly group birthday parties and movie nights.
It was hard being away from each other. Phone calls and Facebook were nice, but it just wasn’t the same. There was nothing like an in-person handshake and smile, like when Tim Meinzer longtime CAPS board member Ron Hoeltke saw each other for the first time since before the pandemic hit.
“When you’re losing something that’s been a big part of your summer since you were five it’s just weird not to be going to baseball,” said Meinzer. “Everything was backwards last year. Being home all day and not having somewhere where you needed to go or anywhere you could go. Missing this was just another thing added on to everything that was missing in your life.”
Parents were beyond thrilled to see CAPS back because it gave that all-important return to normalcy for their kids.
Karen and Trevor Proy, Sr., were on the sidelines opening night watching their son Trevor “T-Rex” Proy, Jr.
“It’s great especially for him because socialization is not a big thing for him,” said Karen Proy. “It’s one of the few things he does, along with swimming and track through the Special Olympics.”
Karen Proy said that though Trevor isn’t the most outwardly social person in terms of interacting with other players he responded well to structure in his life. When that structure disappeared, Trevor definitely was not himself. And it became increasingly challenging his parents to introduce new reasons to coax Trevor out of the house.
“Getting him out of the house the past year and a half not so much,” Karen Proy said. “, shopping at Tops was about all we did. And going out to dinner.”
CAPS baseball is scheduled to run through Sept.14 with games taking place every Tuesday starting at 6pm.
State Covid safety protocols will be followed.
Always the highlight of the summer being back together after such a long absence will make game night even more special.
“This is something we almost take for granted because it’s something we always do all the time,” said Meinzer. “Without it last year it was just a hole in my summer.”
Prior to the start of games Kevin Schrader gathered everyone to officially welcome coaches and players back. As he had done so many nights before CAPS player Matthew Bressette played the National anthem on the trumpet. A little out of practice, Matthew stumbled a bit midway through the song. That was ok though because his CAPS family had his back. Other players stepped up to lead the group in singing the anthem.
When asked how many homers he plans to hit this year, Trevor “T-Rex” Proy confidently had this to say
“I’m gonna play to the best of my ability.”
That’s what CAPS is all about. Not so much doing everything to the best of your ability, just believing you can do it.
Feature Image – (L-R) Tim Meinzer and Ron Hoeltke
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