Glenbrook South student Maddy Halamaj loves sports.
But for Maddy and her friends with special needs, school and club teams, with their intense competition and physical play, are not a good fit.
Years ago, Dan Sabol and David Palmer found their kids facing the same predicament. Discouraged at the lack of options for sports-loving special needs kids, Sabol and Palmer launched their own non-profit program, Slammers Sports, in 2003 and targeted it specifically to youngsters with cognitive disabilities.
“Before Slammers, our kids were either sitting on the bench or didn’t feel comfortable with higher-performing teammates,” Sabol explains. “David and I wanted to create an organization that was parent-led and involved entire families, the parents, kids and siblings.”
For the Teuber family of Glenview, Slammers basketball – played at the JCYS Lutz Family Center in Highland Park—is a Tuesday night ritual. Big brother Harrison, 14, is a participant while his brother James, 12, is a mentor, and dad, Jon, is a coach. The boys’ mom, Lu, praises the organization for what it teaches both of her boys. “They really get a lot out of it, skills, friendships, confidence and exercise.”
Today, Slammers Sports offers a summer baseball league and two winter basketball sessions. For a nominal fee, athletes get uniforms, snacks and trophies at the end of the season. In all, more than 30 kids and young adults are participants, with dozens more acting as mentors. In fact, students from area high schools and the Glencoe Junior High Project are on a waitlist to volunteer.
Mentor Ethan Harris, a New Trier senior, has been shooting hoops with Slammers for two years. “I really look forward to being here,” he says. “It’s great to see the players and I know they like when I’m here.”
In addition to the games themselves, Slammers Sports organizes outings to Bulls and Cubs games each year and hosts an award banquet.
With participants coming from Chicago to Grayslake to play in the summer and winter leagues, both Sabol and Palmer see a need for expanding the program.
“We’ve talked with other parties about replicating Slammers’ concept,” Palmer says. “We have this great template and there’s no reason it can’t be promoted around the country.”
In the meantime, Slammers’ programs have continuously grown thanks to strong word-of-mouth. “We never have a problem filling our programs,” Sabol reports, watching as Maddy Halamaj happily sinks another ball into the hoop.
For more information about Slammers Sports, visit slammersports.org.