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Hanover Area Hosts Annual Life Skills Game

May 23, 2019

HANOVER TWP. — Coach Kathy Healey said she couldn’t put Wednesday into words, but she tried.

“It’s the best day of the year for all of us,” she said. “For me, for the team, for these kids.”

Teacher Kim Franks chimed in, too, saying it was “absolutely rewarding” to watch students from the high school’s life skills and multi-disability classrooms play Wiffle ball against Hanover Area’s varsity softball team.

“This right here, this game matters the most to me,” said senior outfielder Sara Whitesell. “Just seeing their smiles is a blessing.”

Wide smiles were shared by all — the winners, losers, coaches, teachers and special guests — who each had their own twist on the same message, voicing rave reviews for the two-inning, hourlong game that was won by the students in grades 7 through 12, 43-0.

“We did good,” said James Scholten, a member of the winning team.

Healey was a first-year head coach for the Hawkeyes in 2016 when she brought the game into existence.

Despite losing all four games, Healey is quick to crack a joke and playfully trade barbs with her opponents.

Oh, and they return with taunts of their own.

“We’re gonna win! We’re gonna win!” players shouted from the visitors’ dugout before and during Wednesday’s game.

Of course, the wins and losses aren’t as important to Healey as the relationships created and strengthened at the game.

“I think that we need to recognize all students with different abilities,” Healey said. “This is a great way for my kids to maybe learn about kids with different abilities that they may not have known during school. ...

“This is a great way for them to learn about all different people and just to be nice to everyone.”

The softball team’s defense was backed all the way out to the outfield in the first inning, when Timmy Uffer stepped to the plate and imitated Babe Ruth’s “called shot” by pointing in the distance.

Uffer took a swing off the tee and hit an RBI single to go ahead 11-0.

The score was 24-0 after the first inning.

“Let’s go,” Healey told her team, which went 15-5 before being eliminated this week in the District 2 playoffs. “We need 25 runs.”

The Hawkeyes never made up the difference, as the winning team received tips from coach Kevin Gryboski — the current head coach of Wilkes and a former big-league pitcher from Wilkes-Barre — during their at-bats.

Gryboski had advice for all the batters, offering tips on how to hold and swing the bat.

The presence of Gryboski did not go unnoticed, as other special guests included former Hanover Area superintendent Andy Kuhl and members of AMVETS Post 59 Hanover Twp., who recited the Pledge of Allegiance and national anthem before the game.

RailRiders mascot Champ was there, too, much to the liking of Scholten, who represented the team in wearing a RailRiders cap.

At one point, a girl crossed home plate to score a run and she darted straight into Champ’s arms. Champ returned the hug and wiped away tears with his furry, blue paws.

“We started off with not that many people coming and supporting us,” senior Emilee Bobos recalled of the first few times the game was played. “Then, it got to the news and it got bigger and everyone started coming out and wanting to support this and be a part of this because it matters. Having Champ and the RailRiders come, and the Wilkes coach, means a lot not only to us but to the other team, the life skills class, because they love it.”

Bobos will study fashion merchandising at Kent State, while fellow senior Whitesell will play field hockey and study early childhood education at King’s.

Bobos said she hopes the softball team could be an inspiration to their friends with intellectual disabilities, but also that those students are an inspiration to her and her teammates.

“I’ve loved my senior year,” Whitesell added. “It was great. And to end it on this is the best.”

From a teacher’s perspective, Franks said Wednesday was one of the best and most fun schooldays of the year.

Franks applauded Healey’s role in making it happen.

“Coach Healey is absolutely amazing with our life skills kids,” Franks said. “She’s the gym teacher, as well, and she always includes our kids in all the different activities. This is the cherry on top of all the things she does for our kids all year.”

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mbufano@citizensvoice.com;

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