Angels 4 Autism hits home run throughout the U.S.
Tournament draws 2,500 teams from more than 30 states.
Typically, children on the autism spectrum will throw out the first pitch, perform the coin toss, or sing the national anthem.
After all, these softball and baseball tournaments are in their honor.
“We do this out of love and commitment to help people understand Autism in every aspect,” said Andrew Green, of Boca Raton. “We are so proud to be part of it.”
Green, whose 9-year-old son, Alex, is on the autism spectrum, is one of the organizers of Angels 4 Autism, where thousands of players stepped up to the plate for the second annual fast-pitch softball tournament this past weekend. The event is held in April to honor National Autism Awareness Month.
This year, the powerful message about autism awareness raced out of the fields of Florida and into stadiums nationwide like a soaring line-drive home run.
In 2017, there were 500 teams in seven states. This year, in more than 30 states, there are 2,500 teams – and counting. Eighty-three teams played for the cause in Palm Beach County alone.
“The more teams, the more people, which means, more revenue and much more awareness,” Green said. “We reach into the autism community and show love and support, and they, in turn, come out to feel like a star for a day.”
Marco Spells, coach for Blue Angels, encourages his team to wear blue socks. Blue is the official color for autism, which is why it’s so fitting that the lead team that started it all is the Delray Beach Blue Angels. Sarah Green, Alex’s sister, was on that team last year.
“I knew we hit on something special, but I never thought it would be so big,” Spells said. “Most were just thankful to see that sometimes it’s more than just a game and we’re so glad to see that the word on autism is getting out.”
On the website, angels4aut i s m- t ournaments.or g , i t states: “When you play in an Angels 4 Autism Across the USSSA tournament, not only will you play in a competitive fast-pitch softball tournament, but you will join over 2,500 teams from across the country and experience an outpouring of love and empathy for those individuals and their families who struggle with autism every day.”
Each tournament donates a percentage of the profits to local autism centers who work with children and adults to better navigate their world. Last year, more than $5,000 was raised in Florida alone. This year, there were five times the number of teams.
Gordon Patterson, USSSA Florida State fast-pitch director, manages all state-run USSSA t o u r n a ments a n d greenlighted the first Angels 4 Autism tournament. Patterson talked to other state directors last year. He invited Alex, Sarah and Andrew to Daytona Beach in November to make a presentation to the USSSA board and other state directors. After the meeting, 30 states committed, with most doing multiple tournaments for players, fans, coaches, parents, umpires and representatives from the autism community.
“It’s spread all throughout the U.S.,” Spells said. “It’s so awesome to see the Angels 4 Autism logo everywhere.”
Palm Beach County held its tournaments Saturday and Sunday at parks such as Lake Lytal, Okeeheelee and Seminole Palms.
As participants approach each venue, they’re greeted by detailed signs. Banners are simple, with messages such as “Thank you for helping a person with autism.”
There are opening ceremonies (usually reserved for national tournaments), cus- tom trophies, and rings to winners and runners-up in six different divisions.
For Green, it’s important that the tournament’s mission remain “pure,” and stay loyal to promoting awareness about autism. It couldn’t be just another tourney to compete for trophies.
Angels 4 Autism is promoted heavily on social media with autism awareness information, such as statistics and words of understanding. The website contains an entire page dedicated to educating visitors about autism. Topics listed include “Being a good listener” and “Acceptance strengthens friendship.”
This year, there were Angels 4 Autism tournaments in girls fast-pitch softball, boys baseball, mens softball and girls volleyball, while basketball and lacrosse are in talks to be added next year. Two directors in Canada also want to have a tournament next year, Green said.
“F r o m t h e mo me n t i t started, everyone wanted to be involved, and we’re still wondering how big it will actually be,” Green said. “The personal stories that happen at each tournament are inspiring. People hear about them, and they want to experience it for themselves.”
Andrew Green holds a microphone for his son, Alex, as he screams “play ball!” at the second annual Angels 4 Autism tournament held this past weekend. Each tournament donates a percentage of the profits to local autism centers. Last year, more than $5,000 was raised in Florida alone.