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A second chance at athletics
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There’s no doubt that the realm of sports continues to influence our society. Not only does remarkable athletic ability in itself appear to impress folks near and far, but we consistently put those individuals with great physical health and strength on a pedestal of nobility. Athletes seem to represent high artistry, striking character, and grand fortune – regularly setting standards and creating ideals to which we, the public, aim to equal.                                                                                                                   

But never mind ourselves, what of the 51.2 million disabled and handicapped Americans? Surely they too possess sensitivities and consciences, and likewise are living in this era where athletics reigns supreme. Surely they too must feel the influence of sports, and it is all the more unfortunate when they are so often robbed of opportunities to fully enjoy them.

Therefore, while other individuals continue to indulge in the delights of athletics, I affirm that all Americans with physical or psychological challenges, handicaps, and disabilities should have more chances and conveniences to experience them as well.

A 2008-2009 analysis at San Francisco's Center for Personal Assistance Services found an approximate 9.3 percent of Californians to retain some sort of disability that hindered their daily activity, in which seemingly frequent, effortless tasks to us utilized incomparable amounts of strain on their part. How, then, can we expect those individuals to make use of the same ordinary athletic programs? It's no surprise that there's an urgent need for additional curriculums and courses that promote some friendly competition while ensuring the overall safety and well-being of these folks.                                                                               

That’s why I’m grateful that there has at least been established such organizations as the American Association of Adapted Sports Programs and Blaze Sports America, both of which offer athletic curriculums to stimulate active lifestyles and encourage teamwork and cooperation amongst individuals. On the same note, however, there’s a lot left to make up for.

In 2009, the Women’s Sports Foundation released a statement noting that, while a reported 48 percent of youth who retained disabilities wished to take part in some sort of athletic program, 38 percent of the guardians could find no suitable community courses.                                                                                                                          

It’s rather upsetting to learn so, because engaging in sports does bear the capability to skyrocket one’s self-esteem, and can work equal wonders for establishing important social interaction skills. And in addition to the evident exercise benefits comes reasoning abilities. In order to excel in the events, all of the participating individuals must apply rational logic to devise the best game strategies, and must likewise learn the acceptance of a win or a loss.

And finally — perhaps the most important reason of all for increased athletic chances for Americans with physical or psychological challenges, handicaps, and disabilities — is the comforting principle that our nation will never fail to acknowledge their unquestionable presence, unparalleled contributions, and unmistakable potential.                                                                                                                    

Perhaps the most suitable example of such blessings is the Little League Challenger Division. Utilizing the common Little League uniforms, batting order rosters, and playing field, this program presents youth ages 5-18 inspiring opportunities to let their baseball talent speak for itself, regardless of any disability. I continue to maintain hope that more individuals will see the light in such establishments, and be compelled to gather together to erect more.                                                                              

Wilfried Lemke, United Nations Special Advisor on Sport for Development and Peace, justly expressed his viewpoint on the merits of athletics at a recent convention: “Through sport we can educate children on leadership, foster role models, promote peace, and give children hope for the future.”

What better way to pioneer this process than begin with the incorporation of everyone?

  — Henna Hundal is a resident of Turlock. She will be entering high school and writes a monthly column on matters related to youth and our society.