Rebecca Conti has a lot of things she could do on Sunday afternoons.
The Notre Dame High sophomore could put in time sharpening her tennis game as she looks to become a force on the Irish squad.
On the other hand, the vivacious Conti could spend the day hanging out with her friends. With her busy schedule, Conti could just chill out and take it easy.
Instead, Conti carves out two hours every Sunday to serve as a "buddy" for Princeton Special Sports (PSS), a volunteer organization created to give special needs children ages 4-18 the chance to play youth sports in a setting tailored to their abilities.
PSS relies heavily on the contributions of the buddies, local children ages 12 and up who are paired up with the players in order to help them perform better on the field.
Conti, who started in the PSS program three years ago, didn't take long to realize that she was going to have a standing date every Sunday.
"The first time I came it was hard because you didn't know what to do," recalled Conti before heading out to help out at a recent PSS baseball session at Community Park.
"You come the next Sunday and it's just natural. I just kept coming because I really enjoyed it. You see all these kids with a smile on their face and you know that you've made a difference in somebody's life."
A major perk of being a buddy is helping the players to achieve breakthroughs.
"My favorite player is Jacqueline," said a grinning Conti, noting that buddies typically work one-on-one with the players as long as numbers dictate. "She has a problem with her left hand, she can't open it. I help her bat and open it so she can learn to do that. She likes batting now."
In the process, Conti has gained some valuable lessons as well. "I appreciate things more; the gifts that I have," said Conti. "I used to be an impatient and stubborn person at times but this has taught me that I need to be patient."
The buddies are certainly appreciated by Deborah Martin Norcross, a local attorney and the Co-President of PSS. "We couldn't do the program if we didn't have the buddies, they are really the foundation of it all," said Norcross, noting that PSS has soccer and basketball programs in addition to baseball. "You couldn't have 50 players and four adults out there. We have about 60 buddies that come for some of the sports and I would like to add about 20 more."
The players get a special charge out of working with the buddies. "A lot of the players need to work on their social skills," said Norcross, pointing out that the players have a range of needs with some having physical disabilities and others having cognitive or attention-related disorders.
"Having kids close to their age working with them really helps. One of the things parents tell me is some of the players go to the same schools as the buddies and that they are high-fiving when they see each other in the hallways."
The buddies are certainly getting rewards for their efforts. "It's fun for them, I think it's a confidence builder," asserted Norcross. "I think it teaches the buddies that just because somebody appears different from you when it gets right down to it they aren't so different. The buddies may be awkward about the idea of it but once they get here and they are dealing with the players one-on-one, they realize it's like dealing with a younger brother or sister."
Conti, for her part, can't think of anywhere else she'd rather be on a Sunday afternoon.
"Giving back to your community is really special, the players really appreciate it," asserted Conti. "You can be having a bad day and then come here and it becomes the best day you've ever had."
Return to Previous Sports Story | Return to Top | Go to Next Sports Story