The Alternative Baseball Organization, a nonprofit league for teens and adults on the autism spectrum playing across the Southeast, is coming to the Tri-Cities and recruiting players, coaches, umpires and volunteers of all capacities for a late spring season start.

The league was founded five years ago by Taylor Duncan, a 25 year-old Dallas, Georgia resident with autism who wrote to me a few days before Christmas to share some refreshing news.

ABO is bringing its “authentic baseball experience” for teens and adults age 15 and older with autism and other disabilities to Northeast Tennessee in 2021.

And best yet, the program is looking for a coach/manager, volunteers, and players to help get the ball rolling in Johnson City and the surrounding area.

Taylor says it takes six months to fill a full team due to the lack of catered services available in most areas for teens and adults with disabilities. So in spite of the pandemic, recruitment for 2021 has already begun virtually.

The goal, he says, is to help players “gain social and physical skills for success in life on and off the diamond.” And he knows more than a little about which he speaks.

“When I was much younger, I had speech issues, anxiety issues and more that came with having autism. I wasn’t able to participate in competitive sports due to the developmental delays, in addition to social stigma (and) preconceived ideas from those who think what one with autism can and cannot accomplish.

“With the help of my mom, teachers, mentors, and coaches who believed in me, I’ve gotten to where I am today in my life: To live with the goal to inspire, raise awareness, and acceptance for autism and special needs globally through the sport of baseball.

Today Taylor serves as commissioner/director of the 501c3 ABO with programs in the greater Chattanooga and Nashville areas, Charlotte and the Greater Triad areas of N.C., Spartanburg, Anderson and Charleston, S.C., Louisville, Ky., Atlanta, Columbus and Savannah, Ga., Huntsville and Auburn, Ala.; the Meridian and Greater Jackson, Miss. areas and Shreveport, La., all tentatively set to play ball in late spring and summer 2021.

Taylor says ABO is “different from other programs in that teams travel to other areas, play on traditional high school size fields, and play using the same rule-set as the pros.” ABO also provides equipment and resources to help the local programs become successful.

“As many with autism graduate from high school in many areas, services plateau. In a lot of suburban and rural areas, there are no services for those to continue their path toward independence,” Taylor says.

“Many travel to find the limited services which may or may not be available to their specific needs. Realizing a lack of general incentive and opportunities for those on the spectrum, I started this organization to give others on the spectrum/special needs the opportunity to be accepted for who they are and to be encouraged to be the best they can be.”

The ABO program follows Major League Baseball rules, including wooden bats, base stealing, dropped third strike and others, and is a true typical team experience to help people on the autism spectrum and others with special needs develop social skills for later in life.

In 2019, the organization was commemorated as a Community Hero at an Atlanta Braves game and has previously been featured on ESPN’s Baseball Tonight and NBC’s Today Show.

But most importantly for the coming baseball season, Taylor says, is the program’s introduction to players in Northeast Tennessee.

“Players can be of all experience levels,” he says. “We take them from where they start out at, whether they require to be pitched to slow overhand or hit off the tee, and help develop their physical and social skills.”

Information about how to get started with ABO can be found onlineat alternativebaseball.org, by email to www.alternativebaseball.org, or bycalling 770-313-1762.

• If there is a need or a project in your neighborhood the Good Neighbor column can assist with, contact Sue Guinn Legg at 423-722-0538, slegg@johnsoncitypress.com or P.O. Box 1717, Johnson City, TN 37605.