Team Activities for Special Kids
Few would deny that Deb Fruend is busy. When she’s not putting in eight-hour days as an adaptive physical education instructor for Special School District of St. Louis County, she’s spending evenings on the basketball court, soccer field and even the bowling alley running TASK, or Team Activities for Special Kids.
Today TASK offers twelve sports to special-needs kids in the St. Louis area—basketball, bowling, coach-pitch softball, dance, floor hockey, golf, soccer, softball, swimming, tee-ball, tennis and volleyball. Over two hundred volunteers, from teachers to physical therapists and speech and language pathologists, work with over eight hundred kids to help them with anything from how to do the butterfly stroke to learning how to play as a team. Each sport focuses on learning and practicing athletic and interpersonal skills, with an emphasis on teamwork and good sportsmanship. The kids’ needs run the gamut, from visual impairment to learning disabilities, mental disabilities, Down syndrome, behavioral concerns and autism. No child is ever turned away, so sports are often tailored to match the abilities of players. For instance, in modified softball, batters are allowed five strikes instead of three.
Before Deb’s work with the organization, parents often complained that their children were struggling out on the field or on the court. So when Deb first launched TASK back in 1996, she was also thinking of the parents. Sitting in on education meetings with parents of special needs kids, she kept hearing the same refrain. "My child doesn’t have anywhere to play a sport," the clearly frustrated parents would say.
At TASK the motto is: We build self-esteem, self-esteem builds confidence, confidence builds skill. And that is exactly what seems to happen, says Deb, a firm believer in the benefits gained from team activities, including the development of self-esteem, physical coordination, cooperation skills and other critical life skills. Kids who are part of TASK also build esteem by developing relationship skills. Many become close friends away from the league, sometimes driving an hour to visit each other at home or watch a movie together. These children probably never would have met if it had not been for TASK.
To help these relationships grow, TASK has branched out to create the TASK Kids’ Club and TASK Social Club so the children can find new buddies and socialize. Then there’s also TASK Summer Camp, a weeklong program offered to kids with special physical and mental concerns. The campers enjoy what other camp kids have always taken for granted: assembling crafts, taking a dip, bike riding and making new friends.