Despite the roller coaster of emotions that sports can have on participants and fans, typically they are no more than a diversion, a hobby, or a way to pass a sunny summer day or a snowy Sunday afternoon.
But for others, sports have a deeper purpose. They are an avenue to change lives.
Wounded Warrior Amputee Softball; Connor Bell in 2017 when he attended the WWAST Alumni Kids Camp.
This weekend, the traveling Wounded Warrior Amputee Softball Team will stop in Toledo for a series of games at Mercy Health Field, but also for a trip to Toledo Children’s Hospital and to participate in the downtown Memorial Day parade.
Proceeds from the visit will help with expenses for children with missing limbs interested in attending the Wounded Warriors’ annual softball camp.
For Dave Bell, a 2014 Louisville trip to the camp for his son, Connor, changed his family’s life. Connor was diagnosed with cancer in his leg at the age of 4 and had his knee amputated at 5. Now 13, he has been free of cancer for eight years and is thriving. He plays sports and is a brown belt in karate. His father gives partial credit to his five days in Louisville, where 15 veterans who lost limbs in war or stateside accidents worked with 20 kids who either had limbs amputated or were born without them.
“I could see Connor and the 19 other kids just open up. Parents can offer comfort, support, and encouragement. But the experience they shared with these warriors with missing limbs was something else entirely. He came back so inspired,” Bell said. “[The Wounded Warriors’] motto is ‘Life without Limbs is Limitless.’ And that was spoken over and over. It almost became a chant. The kids saw these guys demonstrate that you can do anything as long as you work for it.”
Retired police Detective Jay Schramm has been organizing the event locally since 2014. The Wounded Warriors come to participating cities every other year. Schramm said the idea to bring the amputees team to Toledo started in 2012 when he was president of the Sylvania Seniors Softball League, which had some veterans playing as well as relatives of current or former members of the armed forces. Schramm’s wife, Vicki, is a co-director of the event and an Air Force veteran.
“This is always a motivating event,” Jay Schramm said. “Kids really take a liking to the warriors. Meeting them perks them up. It’s a moving experience.”
One of the soldiers who bonded with Connor in Louisville was Marine Lance Cpl. Josh Wege, who was 19 in 2009 when he lost his legs in an IED attack in Afghanistan. He will tell his story after the second game on Saturday. Another motivational speaker will be Tim Berta, one of the survivors of the 2007 Bluffton University bus crash that killed five baseball players, along with the bus driver and his wife.
Several teens and younger children with missing limbs will take part in the events. Connor will be there, along with Austin Woodbury, a 13-year-old Point Place teen who was born without a left hand. Austin, who plays on a traveling baseball team, will serve as a bat boy and is hoping to get into one of the games.
“He likes to call his arm a nubbie,” his father, David, said with a laugh. “He loves when he meets someone with a nubbie. He’s looking forward to seeing how other people have adapted without a hand.”
Bell is also looking forward to the event and catching up with members of the team, who have become almost family to the Bell family. Last year, Bell and Connor stopped by for the final day of the Wounded Warriors’ softball camp that was held in Virginia, just outside D.C.
“The guys love to see the kids come back and to see them growing,” Bell said. “It shows them that it all paid off. They know they can inspire them during the camp, but they like to see that the kids are able to carry that inspiration forward.”
The Wounded Warrior Amputee Softball Team will play three games at 1:45 p.m., 3:30 p.m., and 7 p.m. Saturday at Toledo’s Mercy Field (525 S. Holland Sylvania Rd.). There will also be special guests and musical performances throughout the day. Admission is $5. More information can be found at facebook.com/WWASTToledo/ and woundedwarrioramputeesoftballteam.org.
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