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100 students wait for the sound of the beep in tournament
Beep ball game opens eyes to inclusion, disabilities
0402disability
Disability Resource Center resource specialist Nancy Peeples assists Flowery Branch High School’s Joseph Fite with a practice swing Friday during a Beep Ball Tournament at the Field of Dreams at Alberta Banks Park. Players were blindfolded during the game, which simulated visual impairment. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

The score sat at zero to zero. They'd been playing for hours, but this game wasn't about winners and losers.

"The main purpose is to show the community that we support inclusion. This is inclusion at its best," said Sarah Beth Fede, advocacy coordinator for the Gainesville Disability Resource Center.

One hundred students - 50 with disabilities and 50 without - participated in Friday's Beep Ball Tournament. The students were a part of their high school's respective Partners in Success clubs.

Beep Ball is a game traditionally played by individuals with visual impairments. The ball lets out a loud beeping noise as it barrels toward the plate and the bases buzz when a batter connects. On Friday, the students simulated a real beep ball tournament by slipping on blindfolds as they entered the outfield or came to the plate.

Some of the players live with disabilities every day and others don't. The blindfolds, many said, fostered a deeper understanding among the group.

"It makes people see vulnerability, experience vulnerability," said Patt Nobble, a member of the Georgia Center of Developmental Disabilities. "It takes them out of their comfort zone."

The first pitch was thrown out by Charlie Miller, a Flowery Branch High School student and state Sen. Butch Miller's son. The senator is also the general manager of Milton Martin Honda, which sponsored the event.

"Actually, the ball was really heavy," said 17-year-old Miller after his school finished its game against Chestatee High School. "I got scared when it started beeping because I thought it was going to blow up on me."

His father said events like Friday's tournament are of equal benefit to those with and without disabilities.

"It's amazing what can be accomplished with support and encouragement," he said. "An event like today provided support and encouragement for individuals with disabilities and ... in turn they were encouraging those that were assisting them."

Individuals with disabilities are often excluded from sports and Britteny Gunter, 17, said the tournament was a good way to work against that trend.

While Gunter isn't disabled, she had to stop playing sports for a while after having a brain tumor removed in fifth grade.

She joined the Partners in Success club, she said, out of gratitude for those who made an effort to keep her involved at a time when she felt excluded.

"It's great to see how happy everyone is," she said, looking across the field. "It's a great opportunity to be on a team with kids from different schools."

This is the second year the Disability Resource Center has held the Beep Ball tournament and Fede said she would like to see it expand to other counties in the future.

Charlie Miller said while it's easy to feel different around his peers, that wasn't the case on Friday.

"People stare at you the whole time, in the hallways and in the lunchroom," he said. "Here I just feel like a normal person. No one is staring at me. It feels like a big family."

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