‘Playing and loving it’: Wichita beep baseball team offers social connection for visually impaired

Wichita Falcons prepare to host sport’s World Series

By: - July 25, 2021 10:00 am

Qeon Holland and the Wichita Falcons are preparing to compete in the National Beep Baseball Association World Series, set for July 27-31 in Wichita. (National Beep Baseball Association)

When Ira Mills created the Wichita Association for Blind Athletes with the help of his wife and friends, the organization had a goal in mind: get Wichita’s visually impaired residents socially and recreationally involved in their community.

Since 2017, WABA and its volunteers have found numerous ways to do that, from adaptive sports to seasonal events like pumpkin patches and Christmas tree lightings for visually impaired families with sighted children. One of the nonprofit’s earliest endeavors was forming the Wichita Falcons, the National Beep Baseball Association’s only team from Kansas.

In a game of beep baseball, all players except the pitchers and catchers are blindfolded and identify the ball by its chirping sound. Mills has coached the team for all four years, and in that time he said the competitive and exciting nature of beep baseball has often brought out new sides of the team’s players. While some aspects like outreach have changed over the years, one fundamental thing hasn’t.

“People are noticing us a little bit more right now,” Mills said. “Envision (a Wichita nonprofit that serves the visually impaired) is helping us out with this whole thing and we have other people reaching out to us, like the Lions Club and other organizations that are interested in what we’re doing. What hasn’t changed is the fact that we just kinda like sports.”

The Wichita Falcons are heading into their second NBBA World Series next week at their own home base. From July 27 to July 31 at the South Lakes Soccer Complex, the event is bringing about 20 teams and more than 400 baseball players from across the country to Wichita. As a relatively new team, Mills said, the Falcons are more prepared than they were for their last World Series appearance, but he’s still expecting a challenge.

“We’re still rookies in this thing and I’m expecting a lot of competition,” Mills said. “A lot of these guys have been around a lot longer, put in a lot more practice, have a lot more players on their roster and they can really hit the ball. It’s going to be a very high-speed game.”

National Beep Baseball Association World Series

Schedule: Games played from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. July 27 to July 30, with championship at 11 a.m. July 31

Location: South Lakes Soccer Complex, 2211 W. 47th Street, in Wichita.

Admission: Free. Spectators are encouraged to bring lawn chairs.

Tameka Clark joined the Wichita Falcons last season, making this her first World Series. She discovered the Wichita Association of Blind Athletes during her time as an Envision employee, and the physical and social aspects of it drew her to get involved.

“It gives you a sense of pride,” Clark said. “I’ve been challenged in ways that I wasn’t expecting. I always joke like, ‘Who would let a blind person play baseball?’ but here I am playing and loving it.”

Even though beep baseball is adapted for the visually impaired, Clark said, listening for the ball can still be nerve-racking. It’s an activity that requires reliance on others and innovation, she said, just as many parts of everyday life do.

“In everyday life and in the sport, you have to be creative,” Clark said. “You have to be willing to live with an open mind, and you have to be willing to try new things that maybe someone else isn’t doing so that you can accomplish the same goal.”

As someone who is visually impaired himself, Mills understands the benefits of an adaptive sport like beep baseball firsthand. He started losing his sight as a teenager, which drastically changed his ability to do the things he liked — including playing sports. He can’t play beep baseball due to medical conditions, but as a coach for the Wichita Falcons, he still gets to be a part of the sport he enjoys.

“That’s why coaching is really cool,” Mills said. “With beep baseball, I can get out there and be active in the community and re-socialize.”

WABA is about more than just baseball, Mills said — it’s about that opportunity to get to know each other. This is an opportunity Clark is grateful for as her first World Series approaches.

“I feel like the spotters and the pitchers and those that volunteer have just as much fun as the players do,” Clark said. “It’s amazing to integrate both sighted and visually impaired people and have them on the same field working toward a common goal and just building each other up.”

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Lucie Krisman
Lucie Krisman

Lucie Krisman graduated from the William Allen White School of Journalism at the University of Kansas in the spring of 2021. She has reported on beats that include local government, business, and arts and culture. Before writing for the Pitch and the Lawrence Times, she previously worked as a City Hall reporter for the Eudora Times, an initiative out of the KU journalism school to provide community news to Eudora through student reporters. During the COVID-19 pandemic, she also remotely covered stories for the North Dakota Newspaper Association that were distributed to newspapers across the state. She has received awards from the Kansas Press Association for business, education and government reporting.