ORIGINALLY WRITTEN TOM STOPPEL
It won’t be mistaken for American Legion baseball, but based on the excitement of participants and spectators, it might be more fun.
The game is called Blast-Ball.
Sponsored by the Hillsboro Recreation Commission, Blast-Ball participants are 4-year-old boys and girls from Hillsboro and surrounding communities.
“The game was actually invented for older kids as more of a physical education program, but it’s been adapted to any age,” Matt Dalke, HRC director, said. “But this is as young as the kids can handle this sort of game.”
Blast-Ball introduces kids to the games of baseball, softball and T-ball.
The game is played with a base that “honks,” and the goal of the activity is to hit the baseball off a tee and step on the base before the fielders catch the ball and yell, “Blast!”
“Everybody bats every inning, and we have only one base to alleviate confusion,” Dalke said. “The ball is hit off a tee and must travel at least 15 feet, which we have marked off in an arc so we know it traveled far enough.”
Participants attempt to throw the ball to an adult coach after fielding it.
“The kids aren’t really out or safe (at the base), we’re just trying to teach some of the basic fundamentals of the game,” Dalke said.
Developmental goals are hitting, catching, fielding, throwing and base running.
“This is their first experience with any sort of ball,” Dalke said. “There isn’t any score kept and there are no winners or losers.”
An additional safeguard is having no catcher behind home plate.
“These kids are using a bat and a softer, reduced-injury-factor ball-but safety is still a major issue,” Dalke said. “We don’t want someone to accidentally get hit by a thrown bat and the kids also must wear safety helmets.”
In Blast-Ball’s initial year in Hillsboro, 19 youngsters are participating.
Volunteer coaches are Randy Brazil and Corey Burton. Brazil is assisted by his wife, Carolyn, and Mark Rathbone. Burton’s assistant is Jesse Weisbeck.
Brazil said even though the children are young, they’re not too young to learn.
“I hope they’ll learn how to hit the ball and improve their hand-eye coordination,” Brazil said. “They’re old enough they can learn how to throw the ball and make contact with the ball.”
“It’s really a laid back program, but I think it does help teach a few skills-and it’s sure a lot of fun to watch,” Dalke said. “Hopefully, these kids will learn more than just the basics of T-ball.”
Lessons learned on the diamond extend beyond the rulebook, according to Dalke.
“It’s really more of a social interaction,” he said. “I like it because the kids aren’t in school yet, and it’s a good way for them to meet new friends.”
Brazil said the challenge in working with children that age is keeping their minds occupied on the events at hand.
“They’re at an age where their attention span isn’t very long,” he said. “Hopefully, the kids will have a lot of fun and be active.”
Brazil said it’s a treat for him to be associated with the program.
“I just like being involved with the kids and trying to be a positive influence on them.” he said. “I hope the kids have fun.”
Making sure the kids pay attention had ramifications for staff.
“We had to cut back on the amount of chalk we were using to mark the field because some of the kids had a tendency to play in it just a little too much,” Dalke said with a chuckle. “We might have to go to paint for our markings.”
Social interaction is as much a part of the program as teaching fundamental skills, Dalke said.
“Hopefully, they’ll learn to work together with other kids and learn how to be a part of a group,” he said. “There is some structure to this, and that can only help them when they get into school and have to interact with other children their own age.
“It’s also good for families that have just moved to town,” Dalke added. “It’s a great way for the parents to meet other parents, too.”
Blast-Ball is open to children from Hillsboro as well as the surrounding communities, Dalke said.
“Next year, we’d be more than happy if someone from another town wants to come over and play with us or if another town wants to start a program of their own,” he said. “We’d try to accommodate them or share our information.”
With the initial season winding down, Dalke hopes a recreational path has been plotted for years to come.
But for now, the children, parents, coaches and grandparents delight in the echoes of fun at the diamonds.
“I get a kick out of watching them,” Dalke said. “There aren’t many things any cuter than seeing a bunch of 4-year-olds playing ball together.”