At softball practice on a sweltering afternoon, dedication looks like this: runner on first, out is at first or second, and the batter has a strong swing. If he makes contact, it could go out of the park.
At least, that’s what the chatter is echoing.
“You’ve got this Jordan,” a voice belts from shortstop, uncaring that Jordan is hitting for the opposite team. At practice, everyone is on the same side.
“Hit a homer,” shouts another in right field.
Jordan swings. And a yellow ball goes flying. The sweet sound of metal altering physics.
Jordan runs. Slowly at first, his eyes judging how much effort his legs should match.
Jordan watches. He notices that the moonshot plops deeper into left-center than he anticipated.
As he rounds first, he goes for it. But just then, the center fielder makes a throw to second so perfect it should be served on a silver platter.
The second-base player makes the catch well before Jordan ever has a chance to contest.
He’s tagged. Play’s over. That’s out number three.
“Great job Madison!” shouts coach Jeff Dorney, running up to congratulate her on a perfectly-placed throw. “Way to stay with it!”
You see, on this hot, humid, sweaty afternoon, players on the PACERS Special Olympics softball team – many of them students of Spokane Community College’s PACE Services program – don’t give up on plays. Even during practice.
Especially not when what’s coming is so very close. All their effort will come to a head on Saturday, Aug. 27 when the Spokane Indians host the PACERS at Avista Stadium in Spokane Valley in an exhibition game against the Fairchild Air Force Base Tankers.
For the past several weeks on Wednesdays and Saturdays, the team composed of students from all walks of life have been practicing at Spokane Falls Community College’s softball field, often joined by friends and family cheering from the stands.
The tenacity is obvious. As is the team spirit. As temperatures most days race upward into the high 90s and low 100s, you’d never know its influence on effort.
These players want to learn softball. And they want to be good at it, too.
“I’ve been playing since I was in grade school,” says Jordan Gibson, moments before taking the plate. “I like meeting new people, hitting balls and playing.”
As Gibson – who mentions he’s BLUE team captain – talks, his good friend Scott Howard is a few feet away, chirping and teasing in a manner only closeness on a playing field allows.
“Yeah, well, I’m RED team captain,” he taunts. Scott is also overall captain for the squad.
Howard used to play for the Central Valley School District and joined PACE in February. He loves his coach Jeff – who he also teases often – and PACE’s director, Stephanie Childress.
As one of the more seasoned softball players, he’s position agnostic, too. Though on gamedays, he can be found on the pitcher’s mound and making plays at first base.
“It’s a really good, competitive sport,” he says.
Dorney says this is the first year he’s ever coached a Special Olympics team, but it’s not the last. The recently retired Boeing employee is an adjunct faculty member at PACE Services, teaching all types of classes to individuals with cognitive or mental disabilities, helping them develop skills to enter employment or college.
He plans to expand the after-school sports program that ended for a brief hiatus during the height of COVID-19 pandemic, with bowling in September and basketball in the winter.
He hopes through word of mouth and Saturday’s unified exhibition game – which is serving double duty as a fundraiser for Special Olympics Washington – the program will expand, and fresh, new players will join.
“I love it all,” Dorney says. “It’s fantastic. I can see how much they enjoy it and the skills it’s bringing them. Skills like leadership, teamwork, commitment. The things we’re trying to teach them in school so they can be successful in a job or their academic career.”
If you go:
What: Spokane Pacers take on the Fairchild Tankers
When: 10 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 27
Where: Avista Stadium, 602 N. Havana Street, Spokane Valley