Thursday, May 19, 2016

USA Medical Students Coach 'Buddy Ball'

University of South Alabama College of Medicine student Alex Kesler gives a high-five to Jack Proctor during a Buddy Ball game April 28, 2016. Buddy Ball is a program that allows mentally and physically disabled youth to play baseball with the help of volunteer "buddies."
During medical school, it’s often difficult but necessary for students to take a break from the rigorous work load. Several USA medical students do that by volunteering with Buddy Ball, a local cause that provides athletic activities for mentally and physically disabled youth. Not only does Buddy Ball provide students with time away from medical school and its challenges, but it also gives them an opportunity to impact others – and learn from them at the same time.

“Buddy Ball gives us a closer look into some of the struggles and triumphs of children with special needs, serving to make us more competent and understanding physicians,” said Olivia Butters, who graduated from the USA College of Medicine earlier this month. “It’s a wonderful break from studying and a way to enjoy outside time with my classmates and these precious children.”

Several medical students from each class volunteer with their Buddy Ball team, the Braves. Teams are arranged according to abilities, rather than age, and have a “buddy” for each player. The buddies assist the players on the baseball field, but encourage them to do as much as possible on their own.

Alex Kesler, head coach of the Braves and a rising fourth-year medical student at USA, said volunteering with Buddy Ball energizes the medical students and shows them the joy of helping others accomplish a task that some take for granted. “It also reminds us that we won’t be stuck studying in a library forever,” he said. “One day we will be working to help patients.”

This year, Kesler’s team has 15 players, playing four different teams in the Challenger Division league each week. “Each player has a blast playing and loves the opportunity to bat and show off their speed,” Kesler said. “Hitting is by far the favorite part for most players.”

During any given game, players are seen rooting for their team as well as members of the opposing team. Kesler said creating a supportive environment and displaying good sportsmanship is key.

Ultimately, Kesler’s involvement with Buddy Ball influenced his career choice in the medical field, and he hopes to continue working with special needs children throughout his career.

Butters, who is pursuing a career in pediatrics, said her love for children inspired her to become involved in Buddy Ball during her first year of medical school. She has volunteered with the team every year since. “One thing I have learned is not to underestimate the ability of a child with special needs,” she said. “Most of the team is made up of the same players each season, and I have seen our players grow and improve their skills.”

Butters said the players and their families also benefit from the community of support that exists within the Buddy Ball family. It gives players the opportunity to have fun, form friendships and learn.

Jack Proctor, 20, has played on the Buddy Ball team for seven years. His father, Phil Proctor, said Jack has easily opened up to the medical students. “I see him talk to the medical students as social equals,” Proctor said. “They chat in the field, joke and are very casual in the way they relate to one another.”

Proctor believes this experience will be beneficial for the medical students in the future. “Over the years, I have seen the medical students’ compassion for the players,” Proctor said. “Medical conditions vary and often do not conform to exact textbook scenarios, so each Buddy Ball player has to be approached in a unique way in order for communication to be effective and beneficial. In dealing with children and young adults with a very wide range of disabilities, the medical students may better understand that each one of their patients is a unique individual and should be treated as such.”

Although Challenger Division games do not keep score, both Butters and Kesler agree the Braves are winners. “With practice, our players’ skills have improved to the point where many of them require little to no assistance,” Butters said. “If you spend just a few minutes on the field with our team, you will find that our players know the game of baseball.”

USA Medical Students Coach "Buddy Ball" from USA Health on Vimeo.

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