Jessica Realmuto first met Amanda Dunn in 2004 when she volunteered as Dunn’s buddy on the Massapequa Challenger baseball team. Dunn, then 5, just wanted to play baseball like the rest of the kids her age. Realmuto helped by pushing the wheelchair of Dunn, who has cerebral palsy, around the bases.
On Sunday, it was a different scene.
Dunn, now 12 and no longer in a wheelchair, ran alongside Realmuto around the bases for a home run at the second Long Island Challenger Baseball Jamboree at John J. Burns Town Park in Massapequa. The event is the culmination of the baseball season for various leagues across Long Island.
“It’s so amazing to see her grow up because when we met she was in a wheelchair and now she’s running all over the place and I can barely keep up with her,” said Realmuto, 19. “She’s like my little sister — we even text all the time.”
Dunn’s mother, Grace, said her daughter’s progress is nothing short of a miracle.
“I call this the miracle field because when you’re told your child will never walk or may not live past a certain age, you’d never expect her to be playing baseball,” Grace Dunn said.
The Long Island Challenger Baseball Jamboree included 25 teams with special-needs members of varying ages and abilities from leagues in East Meadow, Bethpage, Sachem, Garden City, Lindenhurst, Massapequa, Roslyn and Plainview.
“These kids are great because they are so happy just to be getting the chance to play,” said Al Friese, commissioner of the Massapequa Coast Little League Challenger Division.
The Little League Challenger Division began on Long Island in 1989 as a way to give children with disabilities a chance to play baseball.
“Baseball is a game that should be enjoyed by everybody,” Babylon Councilman Tony Martinez said. “It brings a smile to my face to see these kids who truly exemplify what it is to be human.”
More than 150 young volunteers from local high schools and Little League Baseball teams participated as “buddies,” pushing wheelchairs, pitching and being friends.
“We find that when they participate with the children on the field, they continue as buddies well beyond graduating high school,” said John Rywelsk, director of the Lindenhurst American Little League. “It’s not just about community service; they really see that they’re making a difference for these children.”
Above: Amanda Dunn, 12, runs with baseball buddy Jessica Realmuto, 19, during the Long Island Challenger Baseball Jamboree at John J. Burns Town Park in Massapequa. (Oct. 14, 2012)