By Maridith Yahl
Baseball is iconic. It is an American family tradition. There is something about the game that gives a spirit of togetherness.
Taylor Duncan, a determined and inspiring young man, took his passion and love for the game and channeled it to founding Alternative baseball organization (ABO), a baseball experience for those with autism and other disabilities.
Duncan knows the challenges these athletes face. He went through them himself. Duncan is autistic.
“Raising awareness and acceptance of autism and other disabilities,” he says, is how ABO began. The organization promotes the importance of inclusion and shows that players are as skilled as anyone.
“I’ve always been a big fan of the game growing up, but I often did not get the opportunity to play competitive sports,” says Duncan.
He says he faced many preconceived notions and social stigma about what he could or could not achieve due to autism. These misunderstandings from others prevented him from participating in experiences he wanted and knew he could do.
He had those who believed in him and supported him. His mother and some teachers, mentors and coaches gave him opportunities that shaped him and got him where he is today. He enjoys using the skills he learned from these experiences to teach others the value of teamwork, encouragement and empowerment.
Giving these skills to others, he says, should not only be done in good times, but especially in bad times. He wants to instill these valuable qualities so that the players in his organization can succeed, in a career and a society.
In 2013, Duncan started a slow men’s team for men which led him to coach men’s teams, competitive softball tournaments and charity leagues. After a while, he decided that people like himself would be grateful for such opportunities.
He felt that someone took sports for granted. Sport is Americana, part of our culture, he says. To him, most people saw it as winning or losing, but he did not.
“It’s about the goodwill of the sport. It’s about teaching the lessons that can really influence us, being the best versions of ourselves, and developing character and integrity and respect for each other, says Duncan.
Before the pandemic, ABO had 20 teams across the country. He worried about how they would continue, but instead they grew dramatically. There are now 70 teams from Hawaii to Maine competing using MLB rules.
Now Duncan wants to start a team in Northern Kentucky.
In order for players to be able to compete, ABO looks not only for players, but also managers and coaches. ABO is so important because it provides valuable services and skills building that are no longer available after graduation. Social interaction, encouragement, empowerment and team building are all attributes that need further development. And for some, this is the first time they experience these.
To play in ABO, someone with autism must be 15 years or older. There is no maximum age. No experience playing the game is required.
“I call it a baseball experience rather than a baseball league because it’s about forming friendships,” Duncan said. The learned skills will be used for the rest of your life.
For the volunteers to lead or coach, experience is desirable, but not necessary. The main attribute is to be willing to share time and have patience with the players.
“Willingness to really encourage our players to become the best versions of themselves and to give them confidence so they can go out and achieve what they want to go out and achieve,” said Duncan.
When the ABO began, Duncan believed that there should be a local campaign to raise awareness about autism. Then big networks started sending segments about them.
“That was when I learned that there was so much greater need than I really realized,” he says.
Humble is a word that describes Duncan. He praises and gives credit to all those who have helped make ABO and the campaign such a great success. He points out the referees, leaders, coaches who volunteer. He is grateful to the parents who drive the players to and from rehearsals and games. And he praises the players who choose to participate, and breaks away from their anxiety.
“It really is everyone who makes this organization go around, and we would not be where we are today without it [them], “He says.
His faith also governs him, he attributes where he is today to God and Christ, he says. Good and bad experiences in his life have shaped who he is now. He wants to provide experiences to all who want the same opportunities he once did.
Duncan likes to see what they in ABO have achieved. He is inspired by the support they have received. “Anyone can succeed in their own way, it’s just that it may not be what we thought,” he says. Success can be even greater than we imagined, he says.
To give encouragement and empowerment to the players, go to ABO website to sign up to volunteer or find other ways you can get involved.
America’s pastime brings generations together. It gives hope and someone becomes a child again.
“[Success] exists for everyone, and there is hope out there for everyone, says Duncan.
Some just need to get up, volunteer and give it hope. Give the magic to baseball.