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Teen Introduces Baseball to Children with Special Needs

Volunteers, players and sponsors are needed for the program.

A teen with a love for baseball wants the world to know that "everyone can play."

Owen Sarwatka, a Lutz resident, founded Everyone Can Play!, a program for players with special needs, as a sophomore at Tampa Catholic in 2010.

On Jan. 12, Everyone Can Play will hold a clinic in Northdale at Northside Little League, 2650 N. Lakeview Drive. The clinic will take place from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Now a senior at Academy at the Lakes in Land O' Lakes, Owen continues to work tirelessly toward the success of both his program as well as all of the athletes that participate in Everyone Can Play, mom and organization director Suzanne Sarwatka said.

The program saw great success immediately, introducing a number of local children with special needs to the sport Owen loves so much through one-day clinics. But to continue to reach local children, they need the community's support, and of course, plenty of participants.

In its first year, the program had 40 athletes with special needs. Of those children, 16 had never played baseball before, she said.

“All 40 signed up and played spring ball,” Sarwatka said.

Last year, there were 62 participants. "Owen was chronically very ill last year and sadly we did not follow up to measure our success" with those who entered a league following the clinic, she said.  "But we went from 150 volunteers the first year to just under 300 the second."

The Northside Little League clinic on Jan. 12 will be facilitated by student mentors from Academy at the Lakes and Jesuit.

A second clinic is planned in St. Petersburg on Feb. 2, which will be facilitated by student athletes from Pinellas Park High.

The clinics, in their third year, are a bit different from those held in the past, Sarwatka said. The mentors “will undergo a training class beforehand to better acquaint themselves with different techniques to assist in teaching to each participant’s strengths and overcome any fears the participant may have in attempting a new skill.”

Each participant with have two or three mentor “buddies,” she said.

“We also have decided to eliminate an ‘age out’ for the program and agreed that anyone with a disability that would like to participate and is 4 years and older is welcome,” Sarwatka said.

Volunteers are needed to set up and clean up the event, assist at the registration table and take photos or videos.

“We are also looking for a qualified singer to sing the National Anthem during the opening ceremony,” Sarwatka said.

Folks are welcome to come out to cheer on the athletes, as well.

In addition to volunteers and cheerleaders, there also are sponsorship opportunities for the event. Financial support from the community is vital to sustain the program, Sarwatka said.

A $50 donation provides support for a high school athlete, $150 provides support for a child with special needs, $500 provides support for an annual volunteer and $1,000 provides support for an ECP special needs event, Sarwatka said.

Sponsors will be recognized in each event’s program, banners and T-shirts if provided for the event, she said.

To register as a player, volunteer or a sponsor, visit the website at www.everyonecanplay.org.

All volunteers are required to participate in a dry run training from 1 to 3 p.m. on Jan. 5 at Northside Little League.

Everyone Can Play! also needs equipment. Check out the wish list attached to this story for more details.

Clinic Details:

  • Jan. 12: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Northside Little League, 2650 N. Lakeview Drive in Tampa
  • Feb. 2:  7 a.m. to noon at Azalea Little League, 2950 75th St. N. in St Petersburg

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