A very unusual baseball tournament was held in the CSUN G4 parking lot over the weekend. There would usually be a colorful family-packed park with rooting fathers and cheering mothers. What made this game unusual was that all the players were using wheelchairs. The cheering section also helped out.
The fifteenth annual “Over the Line Tournament” held on Saturday was sponsored by the City of Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks, the Valley Therapeutic Recreation Department and the Northridge Hospital. In harmony with a series of 25 volunteers and a staff of as many as 24 wheelchair-using athletes, all enjoyed the great American pastime of baseball. Jaime Eichenbaum, recreation facility director for LA Parks, said the games are held annually simply for the love of the sport. These games are kept small to keep the focus on the players and not the sponsors or large crowds.
“To improve the quality to the players,” she said, “all the focus is on the players.”
The players come from as far south as San Diego and as far north as San Francisco. Each player at bat, pitching or in the field was a study of personal determination and ingenious engineering, including Exotic sport-chairs, light plastic or aluminum bats, regulation and whiffle balls in concert with wedge shaped steel stoppers and two-by-fours for added stability. Utilizing a specialized diamond to facilitate the players as well as consistent ruling for home runs, fouls, strikes and balls, the game moves relatively fast.
Kimberly Simonet is Senior Citizens and Therapeutic Supervisor for LA Parks and was attending the games for the very first time.
“The games are set up so all can play despite their injuries,” Simonet said.
The modified diamond and rules accommodated the space needed for the wheelchairs, and there were several able-bodied, or ABs, playing alongside their wheelchair using teammates. Greg Ames is an AB as well as a volunteer playing in the heat with his team, Tim, Kevin, Dave and Brian. Putting the games into a new perspective, “nobody’s perfect,” he said. “We just want to have fun.”
The official scorekeeper was Delfina Newton, returning from a four-year absence to the game, loves her renewed participation. An enthusiastic Newton said, “this is to develop a passion that is life long and knows no disability,” she said. “Everybody plays.”
Alongside Newton on the field is Erin Holmes, a volunteer who majors in recreational therapy at CSUN. Clipboard in hand, the duo kept score and they keep the players honest. They were recognized in the game’s pamphlet with “a special thank you to devoted volunteers who are our officials and ball-runners.”
Family members and friends also participated and played in the games. Ellen Stohl, an instructor at CSUN from the Educational Psychology Department, is a wheelchair user and has been playing in the tournament for the past nine years alongside her AB husband.
“These games create a nice and level playing field,” Stohl said.
Mike Kendall played in the tournament for the eighth time and coincidentally works for LA Parks. Kendall, a CSUN alumni, discovered the games while still in school and has since become the unofficial line judge and master umpire.
Richard “Ski’ Wilczynski is the captain of his team, which has been unofficially tagged “Two Old Farts and a Cute Chick.” Ski’s team is playing the opposing RPS Foundation, which stands for “restless penis syndrome.” The true identities of the “two old farts” could be anybody’s guess but the cute chick is Cheyenne, an AB playing alongside her father Jordan Luxembourger. Summing up the sentiment for all the players, Ski said, “The end result is getting out and playing ball, nothing more.”
Polly Schuster, director of recreation at CSUN, added to the consensus, “having fun is its own reward,” she said. “Everybody wins.”