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West Valley mom creates special needs baseball league

WEST VALLEY CITY — Jennifer Maravilla is stepping up to the plate, creating a baseball league for children with special needs.

Her inspiration? Her son.

At the Maravilla home, a sport is always being played, but if there is one sport the family knows well, it's baseball.

“I grew up on the field with three brothers and me being the only daughter,” Maravilla said.

A few years ago, when Maravilla’s son, Julio, wanted to play on a baseball team, she was excited about the possibilities, but the experience wasn’t what she expected.

“The kids were mean to him,” she said. “It was hard to watch.”

Julio has Asperger's syndrome, a developmental disorder included in the larger diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder. At the time Julio was 13 years old — older than most kids who start Little League — but Maravilla said that’s because he wasn’t ready at a younger age.

“I feel like I didn’t fit in because they were experienced and I wasn’t,” Julio said.

A few months ago, Maravilla saw a video posted on the Kleenex Facebook page about a special needs baseball league in another state.

“I thought to myself, 'Oh, my gosh! There is nothing like that here,'" she said.

With the pain from Julio’s experience, Maravilla took the idea of creating a special needs baseball league in West Valley City to the board of Granger Youth Baseball.

“They said, 'OK, give us more. Tell us how were going to do it … and we’ll support you 100 percent,'" she said.

With help from the league’s board, Maravilla designed the program. Maravilla and members of the board then approached local businesses and found sponsors.

“Safelite (AutoGlass) is sponsoring uniforms; Burton Lumber is sponsoring the participation awards; Swire (Coca Cola) is donating drinks to be sold to raise money,” she said.

Then three weeks ago, Maravilla introduced the new Adaptive Baseball Program to the community with the help of the Granger High School baseball team. One of the goals of the adaptive program is pairing high school players and coaches with special needs players.

"It can be coach-pitch, player-pitch, T-ball, T-ball assistant with the coach — whatever works. We're just there to have fun,” she said.

Maravilla said she hopes the league will give other families the experience her son never had, and her work has already inspired him to try again.

“He's going to be the EO coach — enthusiastically obnoxious coach — because, for him, sports should not be competitive; they should be fun," Maravilla said.

“Knowing that someone with a disability, someone in a wheelchair can't play baseball or pick up a bat, it's something I want to help out (with),” Julio said.

The teen said watching his mom be so dedicated to starting the Adaptive Baseball Program has taught him a valuable life lesson.

"I find my mom being an inspiration to me to work harder in life because she grew up with a hard life, and all she wants for me is a good life and learn from her teachings and her life experience,” Julio said.

The Granger Youth Baseball Adaptive Program is for players ages 6 to 22. The first game will be next season, giving Maravilla time to collect equipment needed for each special needs player.

For more information about the league or how to donate equipment, new or used, contact Maravilla at 385-222-5448 or