Corsicana Daily Sun, Corsicana, Texas

June 24, 2013

Joy Ride; Central Texas Challenger League Series game inspires all

By Mike Phillips
Corsicana Daily Sun

Corsicana — KERENS — The sun played peek-a-boo with the clouds over Kerens on Saturday morning.

But down below on the Kerens High School softball field there was nothing but sunshine.

Shining...

In eyes.

In faces.

In smiles.

Shining everywhere you looked.

It’s always like that during the Central Texas Challenger League Series. The kids played the second of the two-game series on Saturday, wrapping up another inspirational season in the sun.

There’s not another game like this one, kids from three counties, the mentally and physically challenged, rising, soaring — turning a simple softball diamond into a heart-swelling field of joy.

This is the real Field of Dreams

The kids have been coming here for the two-game series every summer for four years, thanks to the spirit and love of Deena Davis, who embraced the idea along with her husband Braz four years ago.

The kids make this journey here every summer for the greatest trip around the bases anyone will ever see.

They can’t wait to get here.

“She starts talking about it in January,’’ said Jackie Evett, whose daughter Makenzie has been playing in the series for four years. “She starts saying, ‘Can I play T-ball, can I play T-ball?’ She just can’t wait to get here. It’s what the kids look forward to every year.’’

There’s big Braz, who pitched for the Chicago Cubs organization, on the mound, pitching in even a bigger game now.

There’s Drake Kamp pumping his fists and raising his arms to the sky as he is pushed in his wheelchair to first base after opening the game with a hit. He tilts his head back and laughs out loud.

Priceless.

The stands are packed and everyone here shares in every moment from the opening procession when all the kids enter the field to the final at-bat of the two-inning game to the medal presentation afterward.

Hayley McBride is showing everyone her medal — “Look, look,’’ she said, trembling with excitement with a smile that flashes back and forth as she looks down to her medal and back up again to tell someone else.

Everyone gets a medal.

 Everyone laughs.

Everyone smiles.

Everyone shines.

Wouldn’t you know it, the game ended in a tie this year — just like it does every year.

That’s what Mike Jennings, the game’s bigger-than-life announcer tells the crowd after the last player churns home to score. Jenning’s voice dances all morning as he gives each kid a build up for the ages and teases and jokes with the crowd and encourages the kids.

Everyone scores in this game.  

There’s Lane Brady — the one and only Lane Brady — charging home and landing with the biggest and boldest head-first slide you have ever seen. He jumps up and pumps his fists high into the air in celebration.

The crowd goes crazy.

Jennings gives Shakeila “Kiki” Ponder a hard time when she comes to the plate, telling her she’s gonna smile.

Kiki is always smiling — always. From the minute she takes the field to her animated and delightful at-bat to her heart-on-her-sleeve run around the bases, spreading her arms wide in jubilation when she brings it home.

No one has ever had more fun hitting a home run.

“I used to get emotional about it,’’ said Kiki’s mother, Cassandra Rice. “But not any more. It’s fun. Just look at the kids, having so much fun. There’s nothing to cry about. When she was born the doctors said she wouldn’t be able to do this. But she loves this. She just loves it. All she talks about is, ‘I want to play baseball.’ It’s just so great that they have this.’’

There are always tears in the stands.

They are all born of joy.

“I was just crying a minute ago,’’ said Mary Jock, whose son Logan had the time of his life playing in the game on Saturday. “I was crying not just for him but for all of them. They miss out on so much. This gives them something to do just like other kids.

“He couldn’t play the last time,’’ she said. “He was in the hospital. A lot of these kids are in the hospital a lot, but to see them out here. I love it. I love it. I’m going to volunteer for this next year.’’

There is a force of people who make it happen.

“The whole community supports it, and you see people coming to this who don’t show up at any other event,’’ said Braz Davis of the crowd that seems to get bigger every year. “It’s fun for them. It makes their day. How could it not?          

“And we get so much support from people. Chris Whorton runs the music, Mike Jennings does the announcing. Jimmy and Tracy Keele are big supporters, Raymond Linex, Kerens High School baseball coach Jayson Engel, and all the kids who are help every year,’’ said Braz, pointing around the field. “It’s just a great event. Just to see how much fun they have. It’s amazing.’’

All you had to do was take a glance at the look on Drake’s face.

After the game, Drake was smiling and laughing and giving high-fives.

“It’s fun,’’ he said. “It’s too much fun. ... Too much fun!”

What started as an idea from Deena, who wanted to find a way so Drake, who is her nephew, could play baseball, has turned into an annual celebration for these kids.

“Our kids don’t have the chances others do,’’ said Deena, who has been a special education counselor for more than 18 years. “It’s hard for our kids to find extra-curricular activities. But they have the spirit to compete and to have that fun and to have this experience that is theirs.’’

The day is full of inspiration and emotion.

“I think some people have tears because they are in a moment when they realize what’s important,’’ Deena said. “It’s a joy. This is the best sporting event anywhere. It’s just a joy.

“That’s pure joy there,’’ she said, pointing to the field. “When they cross home plate, that’s pure joy!”