Corollary softball gives disabled students a chance to get in the game

Amy Marshall, a member of Gaithersburg's corollary softball team, describes the joy she gets from spending time with her new teammates and playing a sport she thought her vision deficiency would never allow.
By Katie Carrera
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Inside the Gaithersburg gymnasium, Amy Marshall is frantically trying to organize her teammates for their first yearbook photo. Some don't want to wear their ball caps, others can't seem to stand still and their unofficial spokeswoman doesn't hide her displeasure.

"C'mon guys, straighten up," she says, strutting around the group like a mother hen in her hot pink Chuck Taylors. "This is important!"

Easily the most outgoing member of a newly founded softball team, Amy, 14, is on a mission to promote interest and recruit new players. Or, in this case, relay the significance of the picture taken during the team's inaugural season.

The students in matching white T-shirts with "Gaithersburg" emblazoned on the front and royal blue athletic shorts eventually line up for a few serious poses, but then the photographer asks them to loosen up. They instinctively stick out their tongues and flash peace signs. Amy tilts her hat and assumes a gruff expression as laughter erupts in the gym.

"I've always wanted to be on a team like this," Amy says. "Everyone in my family -- my dad, my brothers -- played softball or baseball. I never could before except for some catch, but now my family can come watch me."

For Amy and her six teammates, who are all special needs students, the adapted softball program the Montgomery County public school system started this spring (known as corollary softball) offers an opportunity for inclusion that few disabled students and their families believed would exist in conjunction with traditional high schools.

It is one of several new sports emerging in Maryland, created specifically to cater to disabled students as districts seek to comply with Maryland's Fitness and Athletic Equity Act for Students with Disabilities. The 2008 law gave the state's public school districts three years to implement equivalent athletic programs for students with special needs.

Those details are irrelevant, however, as the Trojans jog around the gym, stretch their arms and legs and take practice swings with foam bats in preparation for that day's game against Rockville. After a sportsmanship announcement, player introductions and "The Star-Spangled Banner" reverberate through the gym, Amy retrieves her glove from the bleachers where a few feet away her father, Doug Marshall, fiddles with the camera on his cellphone.

"Hold on Amy, give me just one second," he pleads. "I want to get a picture of you in your uniform."

But Amy, the consummate professional, refuses to be distracted or worse, late to her position.

"Hurry up, Dad!" she interjects. "I have to get out in the field. My team needs me."

Joining the team

Amy was born with WAGR syndrome, a rare genetic defect that results in myriad physical problems, including Wilms tumors (a common form of kidney cancer in children) and aniridia (the absence of irises). Before Amy turned 3, doctors removed her right kidney and a third of her left; she also underwent months of chemotherapy that damaged several nerves, including one that runs down her right leg, leaving her with an awkward gait. Her pupils are always fully dilated, and she is considered legally blind with 20/200 vision.

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