FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. – The Fayetteville SwampDogs participated today in the Special Olympics Unified Relay Across America today, as the Flame of Hope passed through Fayetteville.
Seven representatives from the SwampDogs were on hand to help in carrying the Flame of Hope for a half-mile segment of the relay path.
“The Special Olympics is an organization that we work with very closely, and our relationship with them means a lot to us,” said SwampDogs General Manager Jeremy Aagard.
Aagard serves on the board of the Special Olympics of Cumberland County, while SwampDogs team President Lew Handelsman was a board member of Special Olympics of Southern California and will be an honored guest at this summer’s World Games, to be held in Los Angeles.
“I am blessed and proud to be associated with an organization that does such outstanding work for people with special needs,” said Handelsman. “Coming from a family with special needs children, I’m so glad this group exists.”
During SwampDogs games, the organization raises money for Special Olympics of Cumberland County through their “Spare Change for Special Olympics” program, where fans are asked to donate their spare change to help fund the local athletes. The program raises thousands of dollars each year for Special Olympics athletes.
Three years ago, Aagard began the Special Olympics Internship, where athletes are hired to work around the ballpark on game days, earning valuable job skills and gaining social interaction.
“The program has been successful beyond my wildest dreams,” said Aagard. “The response from the athletes, their parents, and our fans has been tremendous.”
After seeing the success of the program with the SwampDogs, Handelsman proposed the program to his fellow board members at Special Olympics of Southern California, who loved the idea. The details of the program are currently being considered for broad-scale implementation by Special Olympics of North America.
“We’re very proud of our association with Special Olympics, and being able to be a part of the torch relay was a very powerful experience,” said Aagard.
The Fayetteville SwampDogs are in their 15th season playing in the Coastal Plain League. The SwampDogs are one of the most successful franchises in the league’s history, making the Petitt Cup Playoffs eight times in the past 10 seasons, reaching the championship round three times. The SwampDogs boast 84 alumni taken in the draft and have produced six players who have gone on to play in Major League Baseball.
The Coastal Plain League is the nation’s hottest summer collegiate baseball league. Celebrating its 19th season in 2015, the CPL features 15 teams playing in North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia. The CPL gives college players the chance to refine their skills with the use of wooden bats. Players are housed with local host families for the summer and past experiences have been very positive for both players and hosts. The CPL has had over 1,200 alumni drafted and 79 of those – including 2011 AL MVP and Cy Young winner Justin Verlander – make their Major League debut; while another notable alum – Russell Wilson – won Super Bowl XLVIII. For more information on the Coastal Plain League, please visit the league website at www.coastalplain.com and follow us via Twitter @CPLBaseball.