Athens Inclusive Recreation and Sports (AIRS)

Athens Inclusive Recreation and Sports (AIRS)

AIRS Director Roger Keeney
He may be the oldest player in the National Beep Baseball Association, but AIRS Director Roger Keeney has little problem keeping up with the youngsters.

The Keeneys started AIRS in 2012. Today, the agency annually serves about 300 people with developmental, physical or intellectual disabilities by providing them an outlet for sports and recreation through adapted sports activities.

“To be healthy, you can’t sit at home and play video games; you have to stay active,” says Kim, AIRS program coordinator.

“In Georgia, one in four in the general population deals with obesity,” says Roger, AIRS director. “But it’s three in four for people with long-term disabilities because they don’t have as many opportunities for fitness exercise. We offer that opportunity, which gives them independence, improved quality of life, and the life-affirming experience of playing their best as part of a team.”

The adapted activities are seasonal with beep baseball played in spring/summer and wheelchair basketball and power soccer offered in fall/winter.

Including non-disabled players helps change attitudes toward people with disabilities. — ROGER KEENEY

In beep baseball, batters and field players are visually impaired while sighted players serve as pitcher, catcher and field assistants. Batters listen for the ball to “beep” and swing as it crosses the plate.

The AIRS Timberwolves have competed at the National Beep Baseball Association’s World Series each season since AIRS was established, including last summer’s series in Tulsa, Okla., says Roger who, at 72, is the oldest player in the national league.

Justin and Cody, both 23, play on the Timberwolves team, which provides them not only a sports outlet but camaraderie with people like them. Both young men played ball when they were young, and both went blind at age 20. Last summer, Justin won the longest ball competition at World Series with a 163-foot hit; the year before, he hit the winning run at the national event.

John wanted to play baseball from the age of 9. “The coach said ‘Put the bat down; we already know we don’t want you on our team,’” recalls John, who has played beep baseball with the Timberwolves since 2014. “It brings me a sense of accomplishment and wellbeing.”

With a Jackson EMC Foundation grant, AIRS purchased new adaptive equipment and uniforms, which enabled them to add players to their teams.

The wheelchair basketball team, Rolling Thunder, includes some players who are not confined to wheelchairs. Sometimes they play against teams whose players have no disabilities.

“They use wheelchairs and play by our rules,” says Roger. After the UGA football team competed with AIRS in wheelchair basketball, the score was Rolling Thunder, 40; UGA, 10.

“When the football players get up out of that chair, their attitudes about people with disabilities are changed forever,” says Roger. “Including non-disabled players helps change attitudes toward people with disabilities. That’s our focus: to change attitudes. If they change their views on disabilities, our isolation vanishes.”