Esther Kang

Annual Friendship Circle softball game at Mira Costa lifts spirits, forms bonds

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Josh Ramos, Steven King and Michael Geresi -- special needs students at Mira Costa High School -- exchange high fives with the Mustang varsity baseball team at the conclusion of the third annual Friendship Circle game Friday at Mira Costa’s Osterhaus Field. Photo by Esther Kang

Josh Ramos, Steven King and Michael Geresi — special needs students at Mira Costa High School — exchange high fives with the Mustang varsity baseball team at the conclusion of the third annual Friendship Circle game Friday at Mira Costa’s Osterhaus Field. Photo by Esther Kang

Josh Ramos, super senior at Mira Costa, swings for the ball. Photo by Brad Jacobson

Josh Ramos, super senior at Mira Costa, swings for the ball. Photo by Brad Jacobson

“Let’s go Josh!”

“You got it Josh!”

Standing tall at the home plate, Josh Ramos awaits the next pitch from Coach Cassidy Olson. The Mira Costa super senior swings his bat and the softball soars past the pitcher mound. The outer field, peppered with Mustang varsity baseball players in uniform, erupts in cheers and claps. Ramos drops his bat and darts to first base. Meanwhile, his buddy Michael Geresi, stationed at third base, makes his way into home base. Another score for the visiting team.

This was no typical game, and keeping score was far from everyone’s minds  Friday afternoon at Mira Costa High School’s Osterhaus Field. At the third annual Friendship Circle Game, five special ed students joined the Mustang varsity team for a friendly, collaborative game of softball with parents looking on from the bleachers and players on frosh/soph and junior varsity cheering from the sidelines.

Over the last few years, Olson, whose social studies classroom is immediately above the special needs class, had gotten to know the students well, he said. They reminded him of his niece, also a high school student with special needs. So when he found out that some of the students loved baseball, he organized for the end of the fall semester the Friendship Circle Game, wherein his players buddy up with the students for a game of ball. It has since become a tradition that both the special needs students and his players look forward to.

Chzerie Reyes, a Mira Costa junior, gets in position to play defense among Mustang varsity baseball players. Photo by Brad Jacobson

Chzerie Reyes, a Mira Costa junior, gets in position to play defense among Mustang varsity baseball players. Photo by Brad Jacobson

“It’s just been an incredible experience,” Olson said. “We get more out of it than they do. From our side, it’s been nothing but positive. These guys look forward to this day all year.”

This year, the special education class at Mira Costa has eight students under Erin Schnel, a first-year teacher at the school who arrived after longtime special ed teacher Barry Smith retired last year. Schnel noted that while her students swim for PE every day, none of them are involved in team sports. Watching her students from afar, she said this game brought out a side in her students that she doesn’t often see.

Mira Costa student Aren Daye makes his way to home base. Photo by Esther Kang

Mira Costa student Aren Daye makes his way to home base. Photo by Esther Kang

“They’re having fun, acting like kids, acting goofy and there’s no competition, just straight fun,” Schnel said. “It’s really good for them, and our kids are so happy out here, screaming and running.”

Chzerie Reyes, a junior, animatedly expressed through her sign language interpreter: “It’s a lot of fun. We get to bat and catch…I played last year and the year before. We won last year.”

“It’s been one good experience after another,” said Dietrich Davis, a special ed instructor assistant. “The kids really love baseball, and they love cheering on the Mustangs. It makes a good relationship between these students.”

Added June Payne, another special ed instructor assistant: “It enriches their confidence.”

After nearly an hour, the game comes to an end. The varsity players come in from the field and line up in a single file for post-game high fives. They’re all smiles as the five honorary players stride through, slapping fives with the team.

Post-game group photo at the Osterhaus Field. Photo by Esther Kang

Post-game group photo at the Osterhaus Field. Photo by Esther Kang

“If you see them around school,” Olson said to his team, “give them high five and thank them for playing this game with us.”