Bronx Bombers go from competing against professional athletes to playing with Special Olympians
In 1996, Joe Featherston, a physical education teacher at Benjamin Cardozo High School, was approached by a group of parents with special needs children to see if he would be willing to help coach mentally disabled individuals in the Rockaway community.
Featherston went to St. Camillus Church in Rockaway Park to see if they would allow their gym to be opened once a week for this type of program. Later that year, with 8 athletes and 6 volunteers, Rockaway Beach Special Athletics was born.
However, much like the rest of the Rockaway Area, this program was greatly affected by Hurricane Sandy last October. The major blow to this program was that the gym where their meetings took place was destroyed by the superstorm. After months of not being able to find a place to meet for their physical activities, Rockaway Beach Special Athletics was able to relocate at St. Rose of Lima Grade School.
For Featherston’s incredible work in providing a place for these individuals to exercise, and for their perseverance during Hurricane Sandy, the Yankees chose to honor Rockaway Beach Special Athletics for the first day of HOPE Week.
The unforgettable day began with Ivan Nova, Adam Warren, Preston Claiborne, David Adams, Zoilo Almonte, and Alberto Gonzalez entering the St. Rose Gymnasium to a roar of applause from the special athletes. After the players went around giving high fives to the athletes and a stretching period, the games were ready to be played.
Ivan Nova used his 6’4” frame as an advantage when he played basketball with the kids throughout the afternoon and helped teach them how to make layups.
Adam Warren and Preston Claiborne were on two different kickball teams in the courtyard outside. Each professional player took the responsibility of being the “pitcher” and rolling the rubber ball to each special athlete and making sure everyone got a chance to kick.
And back inside the gym, David Adams, Zoilo Almonte, and Alberto Gonzalez handled the wiffle ball pitching action. Of course, they were throwing easy under hand tosses and kept on pitching to every batter until they made contact.
When the games were over, everyone took a break and enjoyed sandwiches and chips for lunch. As the day came to a close, the Yankees presented Joe Featherston and Rockaway Beach Special Athletics a check for $5,000, along with $2,500 to both St. Camillus Church.
The Yankees said their final goodbyes and gave hugs to their new friends, and everyone realized that day that it doesn’t matter what type of disability an individual may have, because everyone can still be an athlete.