On practically any day of the year in Murfreesboro, one can drive or walk by any park, ball field or playground and see kids of all ages playing just about any sport. Football, baseball, basketball, roller hockey, kickball . . . well, you name it, and someone is having a good time and getting plenty of exercise.
For many years, challenged (what used to be called “handicapped”) children and adults were shunned, left behind, and in many cases, stayed indoors in an environment of lying in bed, sitting in front of a television, alone, while relatives went about their daily lives.
“Handicapped” has become a politically incorrect word in recent years, as more and more, the kids and adults who were left behind with some sort of disability have been brought out into the sunshine of life and given the chance to prove their worth to society. Rick Ryan brought a lot of this injustice out of the proverbial closet three years ago, with CAPE, Challenged Athletes Playing Equally. The nonprofit organization has at the moment 175 athletes, ages 4 – 49.
CAPE is for any physically or mentally challenged person who wants to play a sport. No longer, according to the fliers the organization distributes, are they expected to sit on the sidelines and watch their brother, sister or family member and wish for the day they can play and compete. With CAPE, they can play and participate, and unlike the everyday sports we get involved in, there are no winners and losers. There are even sports within CAPE set up so family members can participate as well.
The participants are confident, relying on their own abilities, and work hard to reach goals that many, including themselves, never thought they could reach. Trophies, uniforms and field trips are planned to allow these special needs kids and adults the same opportunities as any other athletic and sport organization. They are given the tools needed to enhance their social skills, and increase their self esteem. Positive reinforcement is a given, games are “noncompetitive” so to speak, and they always have the chance to play and obviously, have fun.
CAPE’s mission statement tells it all: All individuals, regardless of physical or mental abilities, should have the right to participate in any sport or activity of their choosing. CAPE will provide as many of those sports and activities as possible, in a non-political, non-denominational, format in order to help ensure challenged persons be afforded equal benefits.
These challengers get their choice of what sport(s) they want to play: baseball, basketball, hockey, soccer and bowling. Enjoying all of these sports myself, but having played ice-hockey for years, I left work on my lunch hour a few Saturdays ago and drove to LaVergne, where the Hackett Bros. team was playing the Play-it-Again Sports team in a game of hockey. The teams, dressed in Tennessee orange against Titan blue, padded to the gills for protection, were working diligently to score goals. Hockey sticks were everywhere, and the orange puck was sliding and bouncing around as if the Predators themselves were on the rink. When I left 30 minutes later, the Hackett team was winning 6-5 with ample time to go for the other team to score and tie it up. Parents and spectators were everywhere and yelling like the game was for the Stanley Cup. These challenged athletes were having fun, getting exercise and, most importantly, showing their worth to society. I left with a lump in my throat, thinking how times had changed for these wonderful people since I was a kid.
I sat with Mr. Ryan, the Founder and President of CAPE, a few weeks ago, and did more listening than asking questions?here is a man who has one of the biggest hearts in Murfreesboro. His dedication is unequaled, except by perhaps the parents and the sponsors. His love for the athletes and the joy it brings to everyone within the organization is obvious, he beams as he talks about the different individuals and their commitment to playing sports.
One Seigel High student, Joe Scearce, 17, is a hockey coach, and I was touched that this young man would devote his time and talents to the physically and mentally challenged.
Store Opening Solutions held a huge fair recently with all proceeds going to CAPE, and what a tremendous success it was. Other sponsors, including Mapco, Play-it-Again Sports, National Health Care, Hackett Bros. Automotive and Farrer Bros. Hardware and Rental, bring great drive and dedication to the cause, and it shows. Steve Farrer, owner of Farrer Bros., has a number of huge banners and framed photos of the athletes and teams surrounding the walls of his store. His commitment to this organization is paramount, and his statement to me was this: “When you go and watch them play, be prepared to take a handkerchief.” He was right.
Ryan is always looking for dedicated sponsors, coaches and assistants, and the “pay it forward” program works. The challengers are given the opportunity to give back to the community?field trips designed to assist charitable organizations are available for participation.
Ryan’s goal is to have a state-of-the-art complex with a full activity center and physical therapy center. If you are a challenged individual looking to play sports, if you are a concerned person looking to volunteer your time and heart, if you are a potential sponsor evaluating the best possible use of your charitable funds, he invites you to join this organization. Hey, if the Nashville Predators can take time to work with this organization, work individually with the players, donate uniforms, hockey sticks and more, you can surely find some time as well.
For more information, visit capetn.org or contact Rick Ryan at firstname.lastname@example.org or (615) 238-7372.