AYER -- The Nashoba Valley Unlimited Baseball League all started with an idea brought forth by league director Kerry Bremer's daughter. Athletes with special needs often had a hard time competing at the high level expected in the local leagues, so Bremer decided to create a non-judgmental, pressure free, safe environment for local kids with special needs to fall in love with the game of baseball. In partnership with the Ayer youth baseball and softball league, Nashoba Valley Unlimited started in 2009 with 15 kids and has since grown to more than 40 participants from the surrounding towns.
"The Ayer Parks and Rec and youth baseball/softball league are our biggest supporters," Bremer said. "it is a very unique program in the fact that it is supported by the local Parks and Recreation department. My daughter, who was 11 at the time, saw a league like this on the television show 'Extreme Makeover Home Edition it was a Miracle League a family was helping out in Florida. We started to help out at the Miracle League in Acton, but we soon decided what's stopping us from creating one in Ayer."
Bremer's daughter, Kristen, wrote a letter to Ayer Parks and Recreation director Jeff Thomas and he instantly fell in love with the idea.
"We met with him on the bleachers and he gave us a 100 percent support in going forward with her idea from day one," Bremer said. "A lot of these players and coaches would not otherwise have experience with kids who have special needs. These coaches were one after another come with their team, and they walked away getting the most out of it. It was just awesome to see that."
No, the league does not keep score, but that is because everyone is w inner of something more than a game -- self confidence. Some players with learning disabilities use the Nashoba Valley Unlimited league as a springboard into average town sports programs like Ayer youth baseball/softball.
"The greatest thing is when a parent of a younger kid says their child won;t be back next season because the program gave them the confidence they needed to succeed in the town program," Bremer said. "I could not be any happier hearing that, because without this league, they might not have had the courage to play in the traditional town leagues."
Nashoba Valley Unlimited uses a buddy system to assist players with varying special needs, but unlike similar programs, the league does not have dedicated buddies. Instead, Nashoba Valley unlimited brings in different groups of teams each week to Pirone Park to help out with the league. Buddies range in age from 4-to-18-years-old and also includes coaches.
The league is completely free and open to any one with special needs, who loves baseball. Jerseys and equipment are provided at no cost to the players, due to donations from area businesses. The league draws ballplayers from Ayer, Shirley, Harvard, Groton, Pepperell and Townsend.
Kathy Dutton, of Ayer, is the mother of the first player to sign up for the Nashoba Valley Unlimited baseball team five years ago. Dutton's son, Nick, a student at Page Hilltop Elementary, brought home a Nashoba Valley Unlimited registration for. Kathy Dutton without hesitation called up Bremer and enrolled her son into the then fledgling program.
"I called immediately because Nick absolutely loves baseball," Kathy Dutton said. "Our experience with the league has been fabulous. Every week he is asking to go play with his new friends ... he just loves it. Watching the community come together for something like this brings tears to my eyes every week.
Nick now has friends that are in high school, and they all refer to him as 'Lil Papi.' "
Dan Sheriff, of Ayer, is the father of a fourth-grade girl who is completely blind in both eyes, but Ava Sheriff does not let that get in the way of her love for sports.
"Out of everyone in my family, I always thought Ava would be the athlete," Sheriff said. "This is Ava's first year in unlimited baseball, but we did basketball this past winter. I never thought she would ever be able to play a sport because here I am thinking my daughter is blind.
"The kids were great helping the players and didn't hold anyone back. These kids were able to feel that they were a part of something. This was a wonderful experience for my daughter because she went blind two-years-ago. We got to see how fast she could really run."
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