ALBANY — Taylor Duncan, a 23-year-old from Paulding County, has autism and is the director of the Alternative Baseball Organization.
The nonprofit offers a baseball experience across the United States for teenagers and adults ages 15 and up who have autism and special needs, and is searching for coaches/managers and volunteers to help start a new team in Albany.
Teams in metro Atlanta and Columbus already exist, with a team in Macon in the works. Duncan said the organization is looking to form a state league in Georgia, which requires the major cities in the Peach State to get involved.
Finding coaches and volunteers willing is the first step.
“We really want to offer it down there,” Duncan said. “The Columbus and Macon teams need (a team in Albany) to play against.”
Duncan said the main requirement is a passion to help, but experience with autism is a plus.
“Volunteers must have background checks done,” he said.
Duncan said the ambition is to get a team formed in Albany by next year, but that is not a timeframe set in stone.
“As long as they feel this is a good program for them,” he said.
Duncan had speech and anxiety issues as a child, and said he was not able to participate in competitive sports due to developmental delays and social stigma. The help of his mother, teachers, mentors and coaches put him in the position to pay it forward and raise awareness and acceptance for autism and special needs globally through the sport of baseball.
“Growing up, I didn’t have the same opportunities to play sports,” he said. “The spirit of baseball helped me to become a more confident person.”
The program follows Major League rules, except for the use of a large and softer ball, and is meant to be “a true typical team experience for others on the autism spectrum and special needs to learn physical and social skills for life on and off the diamond.”
“Other than (the ball), it is straight-up Major League rules,” Duncan said.
Alternative Baseball, formed in 2016, has been actively expanding since last year. Duncan said he is happy with the progress made.
Families may not know about resources in their area, especially after those impacted by autism reach a certain age.
“I see autism services at the high school level, and after high school, they start to plateau,” Duncan said.
Once players are in Alternative Baseball, they are in for the long haul if they want to be.
“We have a player in Atlanta in his 60s,” Duncan said. “I don’t think there is an age where (autism services) should be stopped. There is really a need for us as well as different resources.”
Alternative Baseball has been featured on national media including CNN/HLN, ESPN’s BASEBALL TONIGHT, NBC’s TODAY, among many local affiliate stations across the country. The program has new clubs forming in areas such as Chattanooga, Tennessee; Washington D.C.; Jersey City, New Jersey; Colorado Springs, Colorado; Phenix City, Alabama; Jupiter, Florida; Philadelphia and Charlotte, North Carolina.
So far, Duncan said, the concept has been well-received in other cities.
“It’s fantastic,” he said. “(Parents say) it helps their son develop social skills.
“We are all in this together (to provide) an opportunity that has not been given to (participants) before. (We are involved) because they can be capable of just about everything in life.”
On the organization’s website, www.alternativebaseball.org, there is additional background information as well as a contact form for more information. Potential players have access to a player pool form, and there are tabs for forms catered to those wishing to volunteer, expand the number of teams and donate to the cause.