By Dedra Cordle
Skylar Murdock does not think of herself as a big screamer, but she does admit to loving the sensation that comes from being able to elevate those pipes.
“If I’m screaming, it means I’m super excited about something,” she said. “I’ll only scream if I’m super excited.”
The great outdoors has always been her favorite place to stretch the vocal cords, primarily because it meant she was providing encouragement to those she considers friends.
As a student at Franklin Heights High School, she joined the Special Olympics cheerleader team to offer her special blend of pep to her beloved Golden Falcons and then she became a member of the Buddy Ball League of Grove City to continue her infectious work.
“Sports have provided her with so many opportunities to scream,” said her grandmother, Lori Murdock. “That might be why she loves being so involved in athletics.”
Lately, however, Murdock has not found much to scream about.
It was March of 2020 and she was so excited. Not quite at the level of scream-worthy, but excited nonetheless because she was approaching two momentous occasions. The first was her upcoming graduation where she would finally be able to walk across the stage to accept her diploma and the second was the impending start of a new Buddy Ball season.
But with the introduction of COVID-19 to the country and the accompanying lockdown and closure of so many gathering places, all of those celebratory plans came to a screeching halt.
What followed was a year of disappointment, anxiety, and some stretches of loneliness despite the support of her family.
“I missed being around my friends and cheering them on,” said Murdock. “I missed being out and playing sports and doing the things I usually do.”
Then, several months ago, she heard a bit of news that nearly brought the house down.
“I heard her screaming for her mommy and then shouting, ‘Buddy Ball was back,’ ‘Buddy Ball was back,’” said Lori. “Those were the best things that we heard in a long time.”
The decision to bring Buddy Ball back was not one that was taken lightly, said Lisa McCarty, the secretary of the Buddy Ball League of Grove City board of directors, nor was the decision to cancel the season last year.
“We know how much our families love being a part of this league but we also know that we have to do everything possible to keep them safe and not put their health at risk,” she said.
McCarty said the board closely monitored the current COVID-19 conditions in the county and state and followed the guidelines from Governor Mike DeWine and the health professionals.
“We took every piece of information they have shared and came to the determination that a season could be held safely this year,” she said.
However, that does not mean the reopening did not come with some conditions.
According to McCarty, the public has been asked to continue wearing a mask while near the field area, families have been asked to provide their own buddy, and there will be staggered starts between the games to allow for sanitization of the stands and equipment.
Additionally, there will be a shortened season of just six weeks – the youth/all ages will play on Saturday mornings through July 10 at the Mirolo Dream Field at Mount Carmel Stadium in Windsor Park while the teen/adult teams will play on Tuesday evenings through July 13.
Still, Buddy Ball members and their families said having a shortened season is better than having no season at all.
“I’ve really missed this,” said Kaiden Mack, 11, of Grove City. “It’s nice to be back out here playing baseball with friends and hearing the crowd.”
Opening day for the youth/all-ages 2021 Buddy Ball League of Grove City took place on June 5 with three games – the Orioles versus the Pirates, the Rockies versus the Reds, and the Cubs took on the Braves.
Before each game, the announcer welcomed back the crowd and said the three words they have been longing to hear since the season ended in 2019 – “Let’s Play Ball!”
And play they did. And score. And eat hotdogs and popcorn after the game. And, of course, scream and cheer throughout.
For the players, it was a sense of normalcy after a difficult and isolating year and for the families it was one that provided much comfort for them too.
Though many of the families have been playing and attending games since the inaugural season in 2016, it was the first time the Boulter family of Lewis Center signed up.
Kim Boulter said she did not quite know what to expect when she brought her 8-year-old son, Aiden to participate in his first adaptive sporting event but was blown away by the support from the community.
“We have enjoyed it so much,” she said. “The players, coaches and families were so kind and they have made this environment so fun for us.”
Angelia Rodgers, Kaiden Mack’s mother, said that supportive base is largely what keeps them coming back year after year.
“There is nowhere else that you can get this level of support,” she said. “We have all really become a family here.”