The North Platte Bambino Buddy Ball team closed the books on their 11th season at the D&N Event Center in North Platte on Wednesday.

In front of friends and family, this year’s Buddy Ball squad joined forces with the North Platte High School volleyball team in a friendly baseball game against the 14-under North Platte Belles to close out the summer.

For current Buddy Ball organizer Lori Hansen, that hour of play not only allows kids with disabilities to experience what it’s like to play baseball alongside their peers, but it inspires friendships and puts limitations on hold.

"I just love that for an hour, their disability, whatever it may be, is invisible," Hansen said. "They get to play, laugh, have fun and experience playing baseball with friends."

The North Platte Buddy Ball team is an extension of the Cal Ripken Baseball League, allowing individuals with special needs between the ages of five and 20 to participate for a period of time over the summer. The Buddy Ball members play one game per week, pairing up with a buddy who gives whatever help is needed, from swinging the bat or catching a ball to helping the child get around the bases.

"It goes on all summer, starting the first Wednesday after the Fourth of July, and we usually play until school starts," Hansen said. "So we will start up again next summer and play for about seven or eight weeks."

Hansen inherited the program after longtime organizer and co-founder Jess Lemon stepped down this summer, which inspired the barbecue celebration that followed Wednesday’s game.

"We wanted to honor her for her time running the program for the past 11 years," Hansen said. "It was just a nice thing to do, getting everyone together for a meal in her name."

The next Buddy Ball season will begin on July 8, 2020. For more information, visit the North Platte Bambino Buddy Ball

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