LODI, Wis. - The Lodi High School softball team practiced for the first time Friday afternoon, but it wasn’t a typical practice.
Each player had been given a disability she had to play with throughout the practice.
“A lot of times -- I’m guilty of it too -- you fall into a pattern of, ‘This is really hard. This is so hard.’ And really, it’s just something you don’t like to do. You don’t enjoy doing it, so you say it’s hard,” head coach Jamie Midthun said. “So I thought, ‘Why don’t we show the kids what’s actually hard?’ And have them go through practice in a wheelchair or be blindfolded or you have a disorder that there isn’t a cure for.”
Midthun has volunteered at Gio’s Garden since it opened in 2012. When she started coaching the Lodi softball team in 2015, she wanted her players to be involved with volunteering and raising money for the therapeutic respite center for children with special needs, as well. They’ve played benefit games for the past two years and raised nearly $9,000 for the house.
But this year, Midthun wanted her players to have a deeper appreciation for what they often take for granted.
“I wanted it to be more impactful, so I thought, ‘How do we get them to fully realize how much help and support the families at Gio’s Garden need?’” Midthun said. “The ability to show up for practice and play a game you love with people you love kind of gets set aside and taken for granted sometimes. So if we take that away from them, there will be a deeper appreciation once they get it back.”
The players said the special practice left them thinking more about the families who need Gio’s Garden.
“It makes me respect them so much more because I only did this for a short amount of time, and we thought it was so frustrating because we said, ‘We can’t do this. This is so hard.’ But they go through that every day, and not only do they do that, but they have a good attitude,” junior Maddie Conklin said.
Conklin played through practice with an eye patch and bandana over her mouth because her “disability” was severe autism, which caused vision impairment and made her nonverbal.
For some players, the cause hit close to home. Junior Paige Goethel has an older brother who has cerebral palsy.
“I think I resonate with it more just because just getting my license, playing in my first varsity sport, that’s an experience that he’ll never be able to have,” she said. “And being able to experience it myself will also help me when I get frustrated with having a family member like that. I think it will help me understand more.”
Midthun said she wants all her players to remember this practice and realize how lucky they are.
“Hopefully it’ll show them how valuable and appreciated each and every one of them is for that magic they bring to our team,” she said. “You get to play a game that a lot of kids don’t get to play, and it will strengthen their appreciation for themselves and they’ll see their value, but they’ll also see their value in their teammates.”
“I think every time I step out onto that field I’ll think, ‘I’m so lucky to be able to do this every day,’" Conklin said. “And I think I’ll take it for the rest of my life.”
The team will play a benefit game for Gio’s Garden on May 19. The team hopes to raise $10,000.