Grandmother And Grandson Lead The Way For Team Play
Debbie Metz, Commissioner
Kyle Sports for Special Needs Program
Kyle Meier is 5 1/2 years old. He’s been through more than 12 surgeries in his short life, more surgeries than the majority of us will have in a lifetime. Two lifetimes. Kyle was born with multiple birth defects including proximal femoral focal deficiency: He has no thigh bones or hip joints, resulting in severely short stature. He was also born with Pierre Robin Syndrome (PRS), a rare condition characterized by a small lower jaw, cleft palate and a tendency for the tongue to “ball up” in the back of the mouth. He also has a tracheotomy. By definition, Kyle is severely disabled, but he is also like millions of other kids.
He loves sports.
Debbie Metz of Mastic Beach is Kyle’s grandmother. Debbie wants for Kyle what every parent and grandparent desires for their children: to be loved and accepted for who they are. But Debbie wanted more. She also wanted Kyle to have the freedom to play sports and be part of a team in spite of his disabilities. Together, they have changed the lives of many Long Island children.
Debbie’s entire family loves sports so it was only natural for Kyle and his twin brother, Keith, to want to play ball. Unfortunately, according to Debbie, there were no organized play programs available for children with special needs before the 7th grade in her area. Through the Mastic Sports Club, a local non-profit community sports organization, she created a program called the Kyle Sports for Special Needs Program, where she oversees the athletic program and serves as the Commissioner. It provides a stress-free environment that gives children a chance to experience barrier-free play, to be part of a team or just the opportunity to play alongside their peers. Every Saturday from noon to 2 p.m., more than 50 special-needs children between the ages of 5 and 16 meet at the William Floyd Middle School in Moriches. They can play basketball, hockey, baseball, soccer and adaptive bowling; they can ride scooters or just have fun.
As I watched the children enter the gym to play, Debbie denotes their special needs: autism, ADHD, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, scoliosis, spina bifida, PDDNOS, corpus colisum and more. But it doesn’t matter what limitations these children might have. Not one bit. They are here to have a good time. “Who are we to complain if we’re having a bad day?” Debbie says as she greets the children, their siblings and their parents. “We let them participate at their own level. I make sure I know about their disability and what kind of therapy and goals they have.”
As Debbie and I talk on the sideline, Kyle is running around the gym chasing a soccer ball. He leaves the soccer ball to ride a bike and then rolls around on his stomach on a scooter. “Nothing stops him,” Debbie says matter-of-factly. “Kyle has severe arthritis and he aches [because of it]. He has two wheelchairs that he refuses to use. He’d rather walk.”
Kyle and Keith goof around with each other like any other brothers. Their mother, Jennifer, chases the boys around the gym. Debbie’s husband, Jimmy, and sons Jimmy Jr. and Matthew, along with their baseball teammates and friends, volunteer their time every week and are busy setting up play areas for the children, coaching them or joining in the fun.
I ask Debbie what Kyle’s prognosis is. She looks at him running around, and then back at me, and says, “We were told he was never going to walk. Or speak. There are other children with PRS, but [his doctor said] he has the worst case. He has no hip joints, no thigh bones. Before this surgery [this past April], he never had a jaw before.”
During this last surgical procedure surgeons placed an external distraction device with screws implanted on both sides of Kyle’s jaw. One week later, Kyle was playing baseball again, eager to be with his teammates.
“Kyle’s first day back was a success not only for himself, but for all children with special needs and disabilities,” says Debbie. “It shows Kyle’s drive and desire to be a child at play no matter what the circumstances are.”
The program that Debbie has developed is a huge success and continues to grow as more people hear about what is being accomplished by letting the children play together. “Parents want their child to be on a team sport,” she says. Debbie explains that she has been trying to get Long Island SEPTA’s involved in her program so that each school district could have its own team and league. “Let’s collaborate and let them play each other,” she says.
Debbie is hard at work on another initiative to help these children lead a normal life. She has applied for a grant through the Town of Brookhaven for an adaptive playground to be built at Legion Field in Mastic Beach. There are approximately 200 special needs children in the area, with the closest adaptive playground a half hour away. The playground would also benefit hundreds of local physically able children.
“I’m not asking for anything that isn’t warranted,” says Debbie. “We want conformity. Adaptive playgrounds meet the needs of all children.”
Debbie is asked for advice by many of the parents; she tells them, “Don’t dwell on what [disability] your child has, focus on what they can do, not what they can’t. We get families together here and they see a different side of life. It doesn’t matter what these children have, they’re having fun. [Parents] believe everything the doctors tell them.” Debbie gives these children something no one else has before. “We give them a glove and a bat,” she smiles.
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