Will Magee and Amanda Kerr knew their children deserved better.
Both parents of children with special needs, Magee and Kerr noticed that the adaptive sports leagues that their kids were participating in just weren’t up to par with other leagues.
Magee noticed the leagues organized few games to play, and that “jerseys” provided (what Magee said were actually just T-shirts) came not at the beginning of the season, but late in the season. He also noticed the games his children were playing weren’t given full attention, with later games being set up during his children’s game time.
That’s when MAGIC Fresno was born.
“They kind of take advantage of the kids,” said Magee, co-founder of MAGIC Fresno. “They basically made us feel like we should just be happy that there was anywhere for our kids to go.”
Working in collaboration with fellow nonprofit, Able Advocates, MAGIC Fresno is a nonprofit organization that organizes what’s known as adaptive sports leagues, for ages 3 to 13.
Adaptive sports leagues are leagues just like any other, and take into consideration the accommodations that might be necessary to make a game more accessible for someone with special needs. For example, a child who might need more individual attention gets paired up with a “buddy,” or someone who can provide that attention.
“We cater to every developmental disability and physical disability,” said Katrina Oh, president of Able Advocates. “Adaptive is just having the ability to give kids the opportunity to play sports given their disadvantage.”
Teaming up with MAGIC Fresno seemed like the next logical step for Able Advocates, an organization that already provides services and equipment for children with special needs who have been denied through insurance or are waiting for insurance authorization. Helping to build an adaptive sports league for families in the Central Valley seemed obvious for Oh.
“When they asked me to come on board, I didn’t even question it,” Oh said. “It was just like ‘What do I need to do?’ ”
For Oh, it’s not just a business partnership, it’s personal.
“Obviously, I’m a special needs parent first; that’s why I started Able Advocates, because of the hardship I was having as a parent,” Oh said. “So being able to provide this program for other parents who are similar to us, and having this outlet for their children, it’s everything Able Advocates stands for. Just being able to have your child be a child. To not have the disability to look at, to not deal with the hardship of every day.”
Even though it’s a fairly new program, MAGIC Fresno has already put together a basketball league in collaboration with Fresno State, and a baseball league in collaboration with Clovis Babe Ruth League.
In addition to basketball and baseball, a football and cheer camp will take place on May 6 at Mendota High School, and a soccer league is planned to begin in August. According to Kerr, the other co-founder of MAGIC Fresno, the goal is to offer the same programs at the schools where those children attend.
Sports is the main focus for the organization right now, but Kerr says that other activities are also on the horizon.
“We are talking to other organizations in the valley to offer art and music programs. We may be starting some of that up in the summer,” Kerr said. “A lot of our kids, because of either mobility or issues due to medication, they can’t be out in extreme heat, so we’re looking into some sort of indoor program for kids with special needs.”
Mostly, MAGIC Fresno is just trying to provide children with special needs, and their parents, opportunities that they might otherwise not have.
“It’s so much more than a place to play sports,” Magee said. “It’s almost even a parent group. The parents get together at practices and games and are able to reflect, and share trials and tribulations, and give each other resources. Without this, they’d just be at home, you know, talking to people who don’t get it.”
Kerr also believes that MAGIC Fresno might be just as important for the parents as it is for the kids.
“A lot of our families tell us: ‘We’ve never met another family that has a child with a similar diagnosis We’ve never met another parent that understands what it’s like to live life the way we life life.’ It’s refreshing for them to be themselves and for their kids to be able to themselves.”
The program, is of course, very important for the children as well.
Kerr notes that the ability for the children in MAGIC Fresno to socialize with each other and make friends is something that they don’t get to do at their own schools.
“When they’re in school, they’re working so hard to get caught up to where everyone else is, they don’t really have the opportunity to socialize as much,” Kerr said. “One moment that really stuck out to me was when we had two different boys from two different schools and two different school districts, and they both had autism. They were placed on the same team for basketball, and within the first practice these two boys made an amazing connection. They became the best of friends. Social goals they had been working on for months at school and therapy they were achieving just by playing basketball.”
And if you’re wondering, yes, MAGIC is an acronym. It stands for “Miracle of Accessing Games In Collaboration,” a sentiment that Magee says comes from the belief that all of their children are miracles.
Magee wants, and encourages everyone to come out and experience MAGIC Fresno. He wants it to be a positive representation of the community.
“Even if you don’t have a kid with special needs, come out and experience this,” Magee said. “It takes a village to raise a child, and it takes a village and a community to raise a special needs child.”