Stick-built inspiration takes prize for smiles

Commentary

February 14, 2003|By MIKE PRESTON

SPRING PRACTICE for recreation lacrosse programs will begin in about two weeks, and Parkville's Marty Delaney has some grand plans, even if his team doesn't have much speed or great defense. He'd like to have 10 to 16 players and workouts that last a little more than an hour.

He won't win a game this season, but his team might be the area's biggest winner. For the second straight year, Delaney is running an adaptive lacrosse program for special-needs kids, those with developmental disabilities.

"Lacrosse is such a wonderful game," said Delaney, a manager at Verizon whose son Patrick, 11, is on the team. "I realize for a program to be viable, you need to win. I like to win, but there is so much more than that. This program has touched me personally. I never thought I would see him [Patrick] run down a lacrosse field with a helmet, glove and stick.

"I'd like to see adaptive programs offered in a half-dozen programs around Baltimore. I want to raise people's consciousness. There are no truer expressions in sports than kids with big smiles. These kids never think about results; they are just happy to be playing. This is a community that has been ignored. Honestly, I don't know if I would have been as sensitive if I didn't have a child with similar issues."

With or without a child, Delaney would be involved. He glows when he talks about the players. There is a sense of satisfaction when he speaks about last year, the inaugural season. He is a humble man on a mission.

This is what you really need to know about Delaney:

He was cut from his high school lacrosse team, but every day during the summer after his senior season, he would walk to Overlea High and pound the ball off the wall with his stick for hours. He made Towson State's team the next spring as a walk-on.

"Probably the only reason I was on that team was because lacrosse was fairly new," said Delaney. "I was a scrub, on cleanup duty. With the score 17-2 when I got in, how much damage could I do? I got a couple of goals, though, including one at Homewood Field, which will always be a thrill. I have no disillusions, though, about ever having been a great player."

You get the picture. He is not about self, but about kids, especially those with special needs. Patrick has apraxia, which primarily affects his language and speech, much like stroke victims who lose their ability to speak. The idea of starting the lacrosse program came after Delaney watched Patrick participate in adaptive tennis and gymnastics programs.

"He's got such a sweet swing," Delaney said of his son's tennis game. "He is probably never, ever going to be able to volley, maybe go back and forth once or twice. It's just neat to see him out there, and it makes him feel really good to be out there. So, I thought, why not lacrosse?"

Delaney got permission from Parkville commissioner Rich Hershel to start the program. He brought in facilitators, or assistant coaches, from his 12-13 team.

And then the fun began.

Well, not yet. There was a little apprehension.

"Parents became more assured when they found out we were getting equipment," said Delaney, smiling.

Was the coach apprehensive?

"Yeah, I think maybe I was too cautious," Delaney said. "Maybe I was a a little too overprotective. But kids are kids. If they get hurt, they get hurt. The kids I have aren't fast, so they can't get up enough steam to hurt each other. I don't teach them enough defense to cause any problems. But overall, I just thought it would work."

So, Delaney organized a six-week program that consisted of one-hour practices. He taught line drills and such fundamentals as cradling, passing, catching, shooting and defense, and organized games at the end of practices.

Each child was given a trophy and a certificate. But the biggest reward was that the adaptive kids got a chance to work with members of Delaney's 12-13 team.

"I got the equipment out and explained each piece," said Delaney. "They were so excited and very touched. At first, I thought I would have to get my other players together and tell them, `Don't treat these kids any different. They are just like you and me. They just have some different challenges,' but I didn't have to tell them that.

"The facilitators weren't overly cautious. They weren't condescending," Delaney said. "They treated them like peers. It was good and refreshing, because a lot of times they don't get an opportunity to interact with `normal' kids."

But that was all last year. That's when Delaney was taking baby steps. He would like to double the number of players this season, and he said he could accommodate a physically disabled player, as well. Last season, players ranged from ages 10 to 14.

"I really didn't know what to expect last year, but I want this season to be the defining year that we can use as a template for other programs to have adaptive programs," Delaney said.

Delaney went through the same process building his recreation team, a group that was together for several years. They didn't win many games at first, but they went undefeated two years ago before losing in the semifinals, and were 10-5 last season.

Even then, Delaney's teams were doing something special, such as raising $2,000 for Grant-A-Wish Foundation (now called Believe in Tomorrow Foundation) in 2001 and then another $7,000 last year.

Delaney has a message for all those Little League parents who become disgruntled with their kids, coaches or officials.

"Why don't you come out and help me with the adaptive program?" he says. "Why don't you watch this, and then realize what you have? Realize how insignificant that missed call, your kid missing the goal or someone not passing to him really is. You'll get a new perspective."

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