MVP Sports offers opportunity to disability community

Ability Tree, a nonprofit center for children with disabilities, has recently started up a program to connect John Brown University sports teams with kids in Ability Tree. Children from families in the disabilities community have an opportunity to participate and learn how to play basketball and possibly other sports, through Ability Tree’s program MVP Sports.

Joe Butler, founder of Ability Tree, led the event.

“My wife and I founded ability tree as a nonprofit organization. Our son has multiple special needs and is basically the reason we founded ability tree. Growing up I played all kinds of sports, and there is nothing wrong with competition, but my son won’t fit into a typical competitive league as it’s not safe for him. He was in a sports league, but he couldn’t care less if he scored in his team’s goal or the other team’s goal. But, he loves sports and people,” Bulter said. “For parents who have a child with special needs that doesn’t allow them to be in a typical competitive league, this is a great league for them. [Parents] can come and sit on the sidelines and watch their child learn how to play the game and build relationships with others.”

Quinn Holman, senior family and human services major, works as a coach helping with sports leagues, trains new volunteers and works in the after-school program at Ability Tree in downtown Siloam Springs. “We seek to come alongside families who have kids with disabilities and part of that is seeking to create inclusive environments for our kids and for our families. Every kid loves sports,” Holman said. “When we saw this need for kids with disabilities who want to play sports but don’t have the opportunity, we can provide that. Partnering with the girls’ basketball team is great because they can come out and teach these guys how to play basketball. The most important thing is that they are having fun.”

Ages span from 5 to 19 in the room and laughter is everywhere as basketballs bounce in every direction. Holman said the kids get to build relationships with the same volunteer each week and over the course of the five-week program an inclusive environment is created through those relationships. Sports such as soccer and basketball are easy and fun to play with volunteers and kids and are easy sports to teach beginner players or community members. Ability Tree in the future is hoping to partner further with JBU sports teams to move forward with MVP Sports.

Kendra Knoner, a special needs teacher in Siloam and an alumni basketball player for JBU, is deeply involved in Ability Tree. “I love Ability Tree because we get to have fun with the kids and we get to provide activities and things they wouldn’t normally get to do in everyday life such as participating in sports events.”

“I have seen the kids grow with the players and I have seen the players open up and build friendships with the students that are here. Overall, Ability Tree has brought a great atmosphere to the community of Siloam Springs. They brought more of an awareness to our community and opportunities for the kids to get involved with different community members so that there is no longer a fear but instead its more of a fun recreation for them to be involved in.”

Participating, learning to play the game and playing with others are some of the goals the leaders have for the kids associated with Ability Tree as the program continues partnering with sports teams on campus. Butler is hoping that more sports teams at JBU will want to partner with Ability Tree in the future.

“Being around people with disabilities gives you a whole new perspective on a marginalized group in our community. The disabilities community is full of amazing people and amazing kids,” Holman said. “You just have to step out of your comfort zone and become a part of it.”

KATIE ARNOLD – Copy Desk Chief