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Players with the Alternative Baseball Organization are shown in a game in Marietta, Ga., versus a team of mostly Major League Baseball players. The Alternative Baseball Organization will be launching a team in Beloit with the help of coach Gene Wright. It’s designed for those age 15 and up with autism and/or other disabilities.

The Alternative Baseball Organization (AOB) will be starting teams in Beloit so those with disabilities can experience the thrill of a home run and the spirit of teamwork.

The opportunity, open to those age 15 and above, is coming to the Stateline Area thanks in part to its newly-named coach, former Town of Beloit Fire Chief Gene Wright.

Wright, who has coached all levels of baseball for more than two decades, said he is excited to head up the program locally for people throughout Rock County and outlying areas.

“It’s going to be very fun and rewarding,” he said.

Wright’s 19-year-old nephew with autism will be joining the team, although Wright said he is keeping it as a surprise for him until all the details are worked out.

“We had him in baseball when he was younger. It’s good therapy and exercise,” Wright said.

Wright said he saw a segment on AOB on TV and reached out to help. Once people with disabilities have completed their high school education, he said it can be difficult to find them services and activities. Having a sport like baseball can help people develop their self esteem and social skills while getting fit.

Wright said he has experience in the planning and administration involved in coaching, but he said it will be a new endeavor helping those who have played before as well as those who might not have ever hit a baseball.

People will be welcome to join who live in Rock County as well as south of the border down to the Rockford area. Wright already has two to three interested volunteers and may bring more on board depending on how many people eventually sign up. There is the potential to have multiple teams, and practices could start this spring.

Players use a regular wooden bat but use a larger and softer ball. The rules are very close to traditional Major League baseball rules.

Alternative Baseball Organization (ABO) is a 501c3 authentic baseball experience for those age 15 and above who have autism or other disabilities to gain social and physical skills for success in life on and off the diamond, according to Taylor Duncan, the commissioner/director of ABO.

Duncan said more information will be coming out soon on how people can sign up.

Disabilities of those on the teams include autism, down syndrome, ADHD, fetal alcohol syndrome, minor cerebral palsy and more.

“It’s always diverse,” Duncan said.

Since the pandemic began, Duncan said more teams started sprouting up as TV stations and media are picking up on the story as many teams weren’t playing at the time.

“Now we are up to almost 80 teams in 30 states,” he said.

Other ABO local teams are located in Indiana, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Georgia and North and South Carolina. Duncan said the closest teams to Beloit will be in the Chicago area and near Rochester, Minnesota.

Duncan, 25, is from Dallas, Georgia and has autism. He loved baseball since he was a child and was a big fan of the Atlanta Braves and Arizona Diamondbacks.

“Despite my fandom in the game, I was denied the opportunity to play traditional baseball along with peers because of perceptions of what I couldn't accomplish,” he said.

Duncan also found there was some programming he didn’t qualify for because he scored too high intellectually, however, he was not welcome in other activities for those without disabilities.

When he graduated from high school there were even less opportunities for him to be active as services plateaued. In a lot of suburban and rural areas, there are no services for people with disabilities continuing their path toward independence and many travel to find the limited services which may or may not be available to their specific needs.

Duncan said he started the organization to give others the opportunity to be accepted for who they are and to be encouraged to be the best they can be.

“It’s way beyond wins and losses. It’s about building character and self esteem and character. It’s learning to work together as a team and learning how to motivate others,” he said.

For more information visit https://www.alternativebaseball.org.