Granting Access

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Ready. Set. Go! The fieldhouse is momentarily silent, giving way to the cacophony of sprinting feet pounding determinedly against the track. A final push, a last acceleration, and a yellow finish line is ripped from the hands of those holding it. The strides lengthen. The pace slows, but the smiles don’t. There’s a moment filled with hi-fives and fistbumps, and then the athletes go again.

“It feels good to have beaten the other competitors and come out on top and hopefully make it to a higher level,” track athlete and York senior Paul Rosland said.

These are the routines of a Saturday in the York fieldhouse during the Access Sports Track season. Access Sports, a community run organization, provides a platform for special needs athletes to learn and grow from sports.

But there hasn’t always been a chance for athletes like Rosland to compete and grow in Elmhurst. Several years earlier, another athlete who wanted to compete didn’t have the chance to.

“My son has autism, and we had tried coaching him for every sport in town,” Access Sports founder Dena Seidenfuss said. “So we started soccer, and every week he would sit on the sidelines. We tried to find something for him, and nothing worked. So eventually somebody said, ‘why don’t you just start your own program’, and I was like ‘huh, maybe I will’. And that’s how Access Sports was born.”

Seidenfuss wasn’t alone in seeking a program such as Access. Sports are praised by therapists and parents alike as being incredibly beneficial for students with   special needs.

“It gives them a chance to be out and about with their peers,” Mike Ruggles, an occupational therapist for an Access Sports athlete, said. “I know sometimes they go places and people try to treat them less than normal, but here, they’re normal. They get to do all the things that kids get to do, and they get to be around each other and support each other in a natural environment. That’s great for them.”

Seidenfuss started with one sport and six athletes. But ever since, her program made from love has exploded in size, scope, and impact.

“Now we’re at almost 50 for basketball, about 35 for baseball, and 40 for soccer,” Seidenfuss said.

But for Seidenfuss, her hectic schedule, planning clinics, buying uniforms, and managing her dozens of volunteers all distracted her from revelling in the growth of her program. While she remained devoted to her program, she doesn’t get a chance to bask in the everyday victories of growing athletes and grateful parents.  

“I am a firm believer in sports being a part of the whole child and the whole human being, so this allows my son to participate in sports in a meaningful way, but also allowing him access to it, in a sense like ‘Access Sports’,” Shawn Bowen, mother of an Access Sports athlete, said. “He would not have the same level access with his peers because he just has some challenges that need the additional support, so it’s been a great experience to making him more of a whole person.”

For a moment, Dena paused to reflect on the work she’s done and hundreds of lives she’s touched.

“It’s when I here from volunteers, parents and when they say impact it’s had on them, that means the most to me,” Seidenfuss said, tearing up. “And there’s so many of my volunteers that go on to work in a similar field because they have found something. And I’m so happy for that. My three kids all participated in all these things, and Chase [her son] can’t. He should be participating within his community. He should wear the same uniform that the rest of them wear.”

And now, he can.


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