Diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) at four years of age and facing social stigma while playing the sport he loved, Dallas, Ga. native Taylor Duncan and his Alternative Baseball Organization are now fighting for community integration for the differently abled in many local communities.
Duncan is the Founder of the now national Alternative Baseball Organization, which is a nonprofit that provides “physical and social enrichment, excitement, and empowerment for teens and adults with disabilities like himself through an inclusive, authentic baseball experience.”
The organization has recently been on a tour around the Carrollton area with their “Community Empowerment” event, which features players with disabilities participating in a traditional-rules charity baseball exhibition with almost no adaptations. The group held a special exhibition in Paulding County in which participants played alongside and against local community leaders, with every event working toward the goal of raising awareness on the benefits athletics can have in the lives of those with disabilities.
Duncan’s inspiration for starting this organization, which he founded in 2016, was a very personal one that originated from an early age.
“I faced speech issues, sensory issues, anxiety issues, and on top of all that, as I got older, I faced a lot of preconceived ideas — perceptions from other peers and those who thought they knew what somebody with a disability can and cannot accomplish,” Duncan said. “That often precluded me from playing typical youth sports.”
Duncan’s personal experience playing youth sports had its ebbs and flows, but it was his experience with one coach that eventually served as an important piece of motivation to start the Alternative Baseball Organization.
“I had one great year in youth baseball,” Duncan said. “The coach took me under his wing — taught me all of the basics — and it made me much more of a confident person to be able to take into the outside world.”
What Duncan heard next seemed to leave a mark on him for a long time. “But the next year, a new coach came aboard,” Duncan said. “After the first practice, he looked me square in the eyes and told my mother I didn’t have what it took — that I had no business being on a baseball diamond — that I was too much of an injury risk.”
After that, in 2012, due to the lack of available baseball programs in the area, Duncan turned to play slow-pitch softball for a local church league, but once he told the coach he had autism, he was often benched during games and rarely saw any playing time.
From there, Duncan began to recruit players and established his own team. The next year, in 2013, he took his new and inclusive team to the championship game of their league playoffs, and a few years later, he created the Alternative Baseball Organization to pass down the knowledge and experience he had gained to others.
Beyond baseball, Duncan says athletes’ experience in the Alternative Baseball Organization also helps build social skills, work ethic and positive motivation for employment, mastery of life skills and other means of participation in society.
“The chances to learn and grow through gentle participation in sports can have that positive effect in translating the knowledge and lessons learned in our other hobbies, and even employment,” Duncan said. “There are people like myself who want to make the most out of our own lives. We want to be taught so we can do things to the best of our own ability. We don’t want to accept government welfare as a daily part of our lives. We want to become positive, powerful, productive members of society.”
According to their website, the organization now has programs in over 12 different states with more soon to come. Their Community Empowerment tour was scheduled to come through Carrollton at Carrollton High School back in September, but it was canceled due to weather and is still pending rescheduling.
Other stops included in the tour were Chattanooga, Rome, Paulding County, Newnan, Macon and Columbus.
Duncan’s closing remarks on his organization summed up what they seek to accomplish every day.
“By providing an opportunity where there’s never been an opportunity before, you are not only redefining what it means to be an athlete for tomorrow — you are redefining what it means to become a powerful productive member of society,” Duncan said. “All it takes for us is one chance.”