Jackson Wickley, 11, wanted to play youth-league baseball like his brothers. But he didn’t fit in with most teams.
Speech delays and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, usually called ADHD, kept him from being able to compete in mainstream youth leagues. However, his mild disabilities meant he didn’t belong on teams designed for more seriously disabled players, either, his father said.
So Jackson’s father, Adam Wickley, who coached baseball for his younger sons, Grant and Lance, stepped in and organized a new league for players like Jackson. He called it the Frontier League.
“I wanted Jackson to have the same opportunity as his brothers to play real baseball. I tried to locate a league for him anywhere, regardless of distance, and there wasn’t one,” Adam Wickley said. “That’s when I decided to form a league for kids like Jackson with mild life challenges — ADHD, apraxia, auditory processing, speech delays, dyslexia, and other sensory challenges.”
People with ADHD may have trouble paying attention, controlling impulsive behaviors or be overly active, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Adam Wickley’s previous experience coaching youth-league baseball allowed him to develop a “real baseball game” that would accommodate his son’s limitations, he said. Frontier League games are shorter and move more quickly that typical youth-league baseball games.
It was uncharted territory when Wickley presented the Murphey Candler Baseball Board his plan for the new co-ed league.
“Everyone supported me and the league from the very beginning. Without their involvement the kids would not be playing now. We are a family here at Murphey Candler,” he said.
The Frontier League started with two divisions. One has two teams for the 7- to 9-year-olds. The other has two teams for 10- to 12- year-olds. They intended to be a co-ed league, but no girls signed up for the first season. The parents hope eventually to add more teams, if they can find available fields.
They began by practicing baseball fundamentals because most of the boys hadn’t played before. They now play one game a week, on Saturdays. Rotating field positions each inning allow everyone to learn the basics of each position.
Instead of a pitcher they use a ball machine, while a player fields the position of pitcher. No umpire calls balls and strikes. Each batter is given four pitches from the ball machine, and then uses the tee until he hits the ball. Games are limited to three innings and usually last about an hour.
That seems to suit the players.
Justin Kaufman smiles when asked how he likes the game. “I like playing first base when I put him out,” he said.
It suits their parents, too.
“I never thought I would watch my son playing baseball,” one of the boy’s fathers once told Adam Wickley. “Now we enjoy sports together.”
If a team is short a player, someone from another team fills in. “We don’t want kids sitting out the game on the bench, so sometimes we are short a player,” explains Wickley.
Playing the position of catcher could prove dangerous for such inexperienced players, so kids from other leagues volunteer to catch.
“This league’s structure sets the kids up to succeed in a low-stress, encouraging environment, “ said Justin’s mother, Nancy Kaufman. “And, they are having fun.”
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