By Melissa Verge
Canadian Baseball Network
Every summer since he was four-years-old, Will MacNeil has been going to the baseball field in his hometown of Antigonish, N.S., to play Challenger Baseball. The program provides kids with physical or cognitive disabilities the opportunity to play the sport.
Will, who is now six-years-old, has a rare syndrome called Pitt-Hopkins.
“We think there may be 30 in Canada,” says his mom, Tiffany MacNeil. Besides being in a wheelchair, he has an intellectual disability, is non-verbal, and has recently developed seizures.
But, when he’s on the baseball field, Will is just a six-year-old who’s excited to do his favourite thing----be pushed around the bases in his wheelchair.
“His buddies have learned really quickly that he likes to go fast, so the faster the better. As long as they’re doing what he’s asked he’s happy,” his mom says. “He gets his arms up in the air and he’s really excited to get around those bases.”
She describes Will as being a cheerful little guy who has a very happy disposition.
And, although the trip to the field once a week in the summer provides it challenges, Tiffany says its 100% worth it.
“I just see this program as such a win win. There’s been days I’ve been like ‘ugh.’ It’s hard to get them there, the 15-minute drive, getting his equipment in, getting him down there. But once you get down there, its like ‘ah that’s right,’” says Tiffany.
His mom has nicknamed Will “contagious” because of the charm he has on people.
“As soon as anyone starts interacting with him, they just fall in love with him,” she says.
This summer has been a difficult one for her son, he was hospitalized for a month with new seizure activity. However, it was the community of people that Will met at Challenger Baseball that were there to help him through it.
“It was his little teammates that were wanting to know how he was and checking up on him. It tugs at the heart strings, it just blew me away the connections that they make,” she says.
His mom is grateful that Nova Scotia has Challenger Baseball so that Will can have similar experiences to his older brother and sisters who are also involved with sports.
“We are so lucky that we have the program in a small town like Antigonish that offers something for kids with disabilities. It’s just so great to see him able to play a sport like his older brothers and sisters and interact with other kids,” she says.
“He just loves to be in that atmosphere and be part of something.”