By GREG KLEIN • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
COOPERSTOWN– Cooperstown’s softball players organized a 2.5 mile walk around the village Wednesday, April 28, to raise money and awareness for autism.
About 30 softball players, including modified, junior varsity and varsity players, walked from Cooperstown’s middle/high school to Main Street and back. They were joined by teachers, coaches, parents and one of their classmates who is on the autism spectrum, junior Kai Boulet, who led the walk.
The event was sponsored by the school’s Leadership Training for Athletes program, with support from LTA sponsor Monica Wolfe, who coaches the modified softball team, and special education teacher Stephanie Nelen and Boulet’s aide, Dawn Chase.
The teams raised $1,400 for the Kelberman Center, with seventh graders Arya Patel and Kayleigh Butler raising the most money individually, $665 and $415, respectively.
“To me, this walk was more than a simple walk, it truly had a meaning toward it,” Patel said in an email.
Wolfe said LTA and the softball team had done work with autism awareness before, as part of the community service portion of the curriculum. They had done the walk previously, although
the coronavirus pandemic prevented it in 2020.
“We’re not only looking at skill development,” Wolfe said, “but also on community awareness. We wanted them to know that people with autism are also their classmates, their neighbors, their family members.”
Wolfe said she brought Nelen in to talk to the athletes
about the work she does in her classroom, which is a 12:1:1 special education class that includes several students on the scale.
“Monica had asked me to say a few words to all the walkers before we headed out,” Nelen said in an email message. “I explained how autism is a complex disorder of brain development that is characterized by difficulties in social interaction and communication.
“I said that World Autism Day (and) our walk to celebrate autism are two great ways to encourage inclusion in our school and to foster and teach the importance of our community embracing differences among our students,” she continued.
The experience affected the players, too.
“This walk was a great opportunity to show up for
our community, especially when we have many community members affected by autism,” senior softball player Abby Miller said in an email message. “This walk really accentuated the fact that there are so many people in the United States and all over the world that are affected by autism, and that there’s a stigma around it that really shouldn’t be there.”
Wolfe said Boulet was thrilled to be asked to lead the walk. She said she thought the event helped inspire empathy in her players.
In addition, it was a bonding experience for the three teams in the program.
“I think for the student-athletes, it is a great point about how as a team you can came together for a good cause, and about how you can support your community,” she said.
The players agreed.
“Doing it as a team adds more of an element of raising awareness as an individual,” Patel said. “I strongly believe that a team is like a puzzle, without all the pieces it isn’t complete.”
“This was a great team bonding experience,” Miller said. “I know how much it meant to all of us that we were able to participate in this walk and show our support for our community and the world around us, especially as a team.”
April was Autism Awareness Month, but the Cooperstown fundraiser will be open until May 7. Go to www.app.mobilecause.com/vf/AUTISMWALK/team/CooperstownSoftball to make a donation.