North Colonie youth baseball raising awareness of autism

North Colonie youth baseball raising awareness of autism

Putting on the same athletic uniform presents a near-automatic bond for teammates who strive to achieve success on the playing field.

For the North Colonie 11U baseball team, it isn’t all about winning as the team has formed a bond the last few years with an impact reaching far beyond the baseball diamond.

The group has dedicated its season to help create awareness for autism, complete with specially designed uniforms featuring the multi-colored puzzle piece logo for autism awareness and donating a portion of its fundraising efforts in support of a local foundation geared toward the same cause.

Jill Durant’s son Griffin is one of the team’s players and his older brother Carter has become a rallying point for the group as Carter suffers from a severe case of the spectrum disorder.

“Carter has a severe case of autism, it does do something because these boys go over, they high-five him, they say hello to him every game,” Jill Durant said. “Carter, at most baseball games, is sitting next to me pulling grass. He has a lot of sensory needs and for him, they go over and sit by him, pull grass with him, they are good to him.”

While Durant is unsure how the team’s acceptance affects the 13-year old Carter, she knows it has a positive effect.

“I don’t know how much this does for Carter but it does a lot for my other son,” Durant said. “I think it is amazing for him. We’ve been with this group for a while. It makes Griffin feel special that his friends go out of their way to help his brother.”

The uniform suggestion came about during a meeting at practice one night and Durant’s husband Chris, an assistant coach on the team, had connections that helped turn a good idea into a sensational reality, complete with the logo.

“Some of the coaches and dads were at practice one night and were talking about uniforms and doing something different,” Durant said. “One of the dads said it would be great if we could do something for autism.”

Ryan Delgado’s son Jason is a member of the team and as a parent, Ryan Delgado sees a big opportunity not only for the boys to learn, but to teach as well.

“My son and a lot of the children are very lucky. It is good for them to see they can be part of something bigger and different and have an impact,” Delgado said. “I’ve heard from the coaches in the first few games with the jerseys, people are asking questions about them. It does create that awareness and people ask questions, that is part of what they are trying to accomplish and bring about a better understanding.”

Fundraising donations have been sent to the Anthony Blaauboer Kindness Foundation, a charity formed after Anthony Blaauboer, who suffered from autism, passed away in August of 2018, just a few days shy of his 15th birthday, when divers found his body in the Mohawk River. Landon Blaauboer was a cousin to Anthony and is a member of the North Colonie 11U team.

“The Blaauboer family is very close. We do Christmas together, we do birthdays together,” Landon’s mother Kyrie Berkery said. “Just a few days prior to the accident, Anthony was at our house for Landon’s birthday party. The team views it more for raising awareness for the Durant family and Carter but Landon definitely has that connection personally.”

The boys on the team have been competing together for a few years, a familiarity that brings the feeling of one big family.

“It is great, we’re raising awareness for autism that these kids see. Most of these kids have been playing together since they were 7 years old. It is a family,” Berkery said. “They see Carter, he is at every single game, he is as much family as the boys on the baseball field. They recognize he has this disability but they recognize him as family. We travel together, they include him as much as possible, they swim with him. They are role models at 11 years old.”

The affection the boys have for Carter extends beyond baseball and team travel.

The North Colonie school district has a buddy system in place and when all of the boys were in elementary school together, one of the players on the team, J.J. Corsi, stepped up to volunteer to be Carter’s buddy at school when he was having a tough time.

“Carter was at a point where he had some behaviors, he was hitting and you didn’t know it was coming,” Durant said. “Carter doesn’t hit because he is angry, it is sensory, he’ll kind of swat at you, he’s not trying to hurt anybody, he just does it. They weren’t letting him participate at school. One of our moms called me one night. Her son was going to the same elementary school and said she would reach out to the school. J.J. is around Carter enough, he loves Carter and wants to be his buddy.”

Not only does the team’s acceptance of Carter have a big impact on Griffin, but also on Jill Durant.

“He could be very happy and in seconds, it can change and he is having a meltdown,” Durant said. “It makes me want to cry sometimes to see the good things the boys do. Having Carter has brought an awareness to these kids and their families. I know it seems silly to have an 11-year old boy come and sit down next to my son and pull grass with him. To me, I can’t tell you what that does inside, it’s great.”

Sean Martin, a local freelance writer, is a frequent contributor to the Times Union.

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