By Melissa Verge
Canadian Baseball Network
It’s a small town on the East Coast, home to plenty of lobster, less than 5,000 people, and an incredible baseball program.
Every Thursday evening in the summer, seven-year-old Cullan Chisholm is suited up in his blue “Antigonish Angels” uniform. With his Dad’s help, the two get into the car to make the short drive to the baseball field near their house, in Antigonish, N.S.
Cullan is a part of Challenger Baseball, a program in Antigonish for kids who have cognitive or physical disabilities. He has severe cerebral palsy and is confined to a wheelchair, but Cullan is, as his Dad Wade describes, “a very happy kid.”
“Once I tell him he’s going [to practice] he’s just “oohing” and “awing” pretty much the entire way,” says Wade. “He’s non-verbal, but he makes noises, and once we start making the turn towards the field he knows were getting closer, and he gets more excited. When he’s happy you know it, he starts laughing and the arms start going, so it's pretty neat to see.”
Cullan has been a part of Challenger Baseball, which has 2,500 kids participating in it across Canada, since he was four. The Toronto Blue Jays and the Jays Care Foundation help support the program.
Randy Crouse, the National Coordinator of Challenger Baseball Canada, says it has the same benefits that any sports program would have.
“We’re dealing with kids who have the chance to be a part of a team. The growth of fine motor skills, the confidence, the self esteem, the list is endless,” he says.
Cullan’s Dad has saw this first hand. He says that over the years Cullan has been involved in the program, he’s noticed improvements in his son both socially and developmentally.
“When he first started he couldn’t hold on to things very well, his coordination just wasn’t there, but after about four years of this, he’s got the bat in his hands and he wants to hit the ball off the tee. It takes him awhile, but he eventually gets it, and once he does he starts laughing and gets a big kick out of it,” says Wade.
Batting is Cullan’s favourite thing to do on the baseball field. Wade says that usually someone would help hold the bat for him and swing with him, but this year there’s a little bat he can hang onto himself.
“I put the ball on the tee and he tries to hit it,” says Wade.
On the social side of things, through the program Cullan has made friends with a six-year-old named Will who is also confined to a wheelchair.
“We’ll park them beside each other, and you’ll see Cullan reaching over and trying to touch him. He knows Will is there and he knows 'that’s Will,' and he’s happy that he’s there,” Wade says.
Will’s mom Tiffany MacNeil agrees that it’s nice to see the two of them together.
“They look out for each other I think,” she says.
Every Thursday evening in the summer starts with Cullan sitting excitedly in the car, knowing they’re going to Challenger Baseball. And sometimes, Thursday’s end with some well-deserved ice cream.
“We’ll go to McDonalds and I’ll feed it to him after the game,” Wade says.
At the beginning and at the end, Cullan has a smile on his face.
“Cullen is happy. He’s a happy child who loves being around sports. He’s a joy to be around.”