One thing the Indiana Wesleyan University Athletic Department encourages for all sports teams is community outreach. This spring, the softball team has set the bar high for all the other teams to clear. The team is dedicating every home game to a certain cause.
So far players have only had two games because of unpredictable weather. Last week, the team dedicated its game to IWU student and staff appreciation and two weeks ago, the home opener to Autism Awareness.
At the game, which took place April 4, autistic children from the Marion community were greeted with gift bags and opportunities to get their faces painted and create noise makers to cheer on the Wildcats. The game was originally scheduled to take place on April 2 (Autism Awareness Day); however, due to rainy conditions, the game was rescheduled.
Second baseman Lauren Benda (fr) said the results were still “awesome” despite the rescheduling. “We had a lot more people come than we thought,” she said. There was a total of close to 30 autistic children who came to cheer on the women that day.
“We were very surprised and ecstatic at the same time about the number of kids that showed up,” said IWU alum Aubrey Lohser. Lohser is a close friend of the assistant softball coach and was asked to help out with the game.
“Coach Babinski calls me his ‘honorary’ assistant coach because I am helping him with these events. He sometimes has difficulty implementing his great ideas,” she said, “so that’s how I became involved.”
The team sold puzzle pieces to attendees to raise money for the cause. They were asked to put either their name on the paper or someone they know with autism. All proceeds went to American Autism Association.
“We requested that the funds that we raised go to the children in Marion and the surrounding areas, Logansport counties,” Lohser said. The money will be distributed from the association to the families to help pay for groceries and therapy sessions to help the children.
“Anything to get them better and moving forward and progressing, that is what the money is going towards,” she said.
Gabby McIntire (jr) said the team raised more than $300 for their cause. “It wasn’t so much about the money, though,” McIntire said. “Our main goal was to spread awareness about how much autism is growing.”
According to Lohser, today , one in every 88 children is affected by autism. “And it is becoming more and more prevalent,” she said.
At the game, two autistic children threw out the first pitch and one boy ran the bases after the game and met all the players. Lohser, Benda and McIntire all said that was their favorite part of the event.
“He is such a great kid and the smile he had on his face the whole time was unbelievable,” Benda said about the 3-year-old boy.
“It’s something we will all remember forever, watching him run the bases so full of life,” McIntire said.
“We hope to continue doing this event and more in the seasons to come because it was such a joy to see these kids participating, and I know the girls enjoyed every bit of it as well,” Lohser said.
On Wednesday, April 24, the team’s home game will be dedicated to cancer research. Each player (on both teams) will wear a ribbon in her hair with the name of someone she knows who has been affected by cancer. Other events for the season include a community night when IWU will honor those involved in the Marion schools and community and a public health workers’ night to honor Marion police officers and firefighters.