By John Knebels
Special to The CS&T
Great games. Clutch performances. Upset victories. Playoff wins.
For any high school athlete, experiencing any or all of those sports-related occurrences will usually result in a lifetime memory. They will serve as conversation pieces at future reunions; late-night trips down memory lane when in the presence of future children and grandchildren.
But this past Saturday afternoon, something else occurred that will undoubtedly provide Monsignor Bonner baseball players with pleasant recall. As the mercurial weather evolved from sporadic rain to sunny skies accompanied by a gentle breeze, Bonner’s varsity baseball program paid a visit to the Don Guanella School in Springfield, Delaware County, which is run by archdiocesan Catholic Social Services.
After meeting the boys who comprise the Springfield school that caters to boys ages 6 to 21 who deal with developmental disabilities, the Friars played a spirited game of softball with their new friends for about two hours.
Not surprisingly, the event turned out to be rewarding for all involved.
Perhaps even more so for the appreciative Bonner players.
“I would definitely say that even though the Don Guanella boys thoroughly enjoyed everything, our boys ended up benefitting the most,” said second-year Bonner head coach Joe DeBarberie, formerly the longtime CYO high school baseball coach at St. Bernadette in Drexel Hill before coming to Bonner as an assistant in 2004. “The look on their faces as soon as we got there said it all.”
Bonner’s service project extends to its junior varsity and freshman baseball teams as well. While the JV helped Llanerch Hills Little League on their annual Field Day, the freshmen did likewise for the Drexel Hill Little League. All the service projects are coordinated by Trish Phillips, whose son Tim plays on Bonner’s JV team.
Bonner senior Dan Williams, the Friars’ leading hitter, who according to DeBarberie is having an All-Catholic season, remembers last year’s event and how the Don Guanella students immediately flocked to the Bonner boys.
“They are so happy to see us and it means a lot,” said Williams. “They are so sincere.”
A team tri-captain along with seniors Ryan Haley and Jim Calabrese, Williams said that while the afternoon is technically a service project, the Bonner players see it as something much more significant.
“It’s a chance to see things from a different point of view,” said Williams. “They are so positive and so thankful.”
DeBarberie said both the adults and teens immediately forget about their own, sometimes trivial, complaints.
When DeBarberie watched his players, he noticed they were completely absorbed in their attempt to establish a special camaraderie with the Don Guanella boys. Because of the Guanella students’ collective openness and gentle disposition, they didn’t have to work very hard.
“As soon as they got there, their own trials and tribulations disappeared for a little while,” he said. “From the very beginning there were smiles all around, and everything progressed as the day went on.”
The field on which they played softball was significantly improved from last year, said DeBarberie. Among the changes was an outfield fence, which only lacked the yellow padding that sits across the top to avoid injuries.
Asked by Don Guanella director Rob Neely if Bonner had any extra material to lend, DeBarberie took matters a step further when he promised that the Bonner program would purchase the necessities.
“It was the least we could do,” said DeBarberie, a 1973 graduate of Archbishop Carroll High School who said he was “stunned” when the Don Guanella students recognized several of the varsity players who had attended last year’s event. Later, DeBarberie and his Bonner compatriots were stunned in a different way; the guys from Guanella could flat out hit a softball.
“One guy hit two home runs,” he said. “They were shots.”
Batting opposite from their normal side, the Friars made sure the game remained competitive. No one knows for sure who really won, but one thing was certain.
There were absolutely, positively no losers.
John Knebels can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.