An­gels 4 Autism hits home run through­out the U.S.

Tour­na­ment draws 2,500 teams from more than 30 states.

The Palm Beach Post - Neighborhood Post - Southern Palm Beach County - - Front Page - By Faran Fa­gen Spe­cial to The Palm Beach Post

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.”

CON­TRIB­UTED

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.

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