Our Kind of People

He brought a sport to the Coast for kids with special needs. It’s been a blessing.

Dad’s love helps start Buddy Ball on Mississippi Gulf Coast

Mike Crawford follows example set by his father to be there for his children.
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Mike Crawford follows example set by his father to be there for his children.

Mike Crawford said he wanted his child to have the opportunity to play ball with other children her age. So he did what any good father would do — he helped create a baseball league for special athletes like his daughter, Emily.

“We started Long Beach Buddy Ball in 2010,” Crawford, of Pass Christian, said. “It’s based on Bambino Buddy Ball — we have more than 60 participants these days.”

The concept of Buddy Ball is simple — it’s tee ball or “coach-pitched” ball for athletes with both physical and intellectual disabilities who have a “buddy” help them during the course of the game. It’s fast-paced and highly competitive. But it’s also a fun way to spend eight Wednesday nights from March to May.

“It gives them something to do and something to look forward to,” Crawford said. “You can just see their faces light up when they hit that ball for the first time.”

Crawford is a native of Meridian, though he now calls Pass Christian home. Starting a Buddy Ball league was a natural thing for him to do — he’s devoted most of his life to helping and being an advocate for people with intellectual disabilities.

“My brother has disabilities — and so do two of my four children,” he said.

They never treated my brother any differently than they did me and that’s the most important thing they could have taught me.

Mike Crawford

A life of empathy

Crawford said his brother and his daughters, Marissa, 25, and Emily, 15, have a genetic chromosomal issue called partial trisomy 9 with a partial 10 deletion. This means there is an unbalanced translocation of the chromosomes, which can affect several things, including speech and motor skills. Crawford took his passion for wanting to help others with him to college, where he decided to major in education. He recently retired from teaching after doing so for more than 30 years.

“I really didn’t know what I want to do when I go to college, but because of my brother, I decided to become a teacher,” he said.

Crawford said his passion for helping others was his true inspiration.

“My parents were in the Jaycees and Jaycettes and they were always selling Sue Bee Honey to raise money for people with special needs,” he said. “They are in their 80s now and they still drive up to Oxford to see my brother at the North Mississippi Regional Center on a regular basis.”

But, he said, his parents also taught him something far more valuable than being compassionate — they also taught him empathy.

“They never treated my brother any differently than they did me, and that’s the most important thing they could have taught me,” Crawford said.

Field of dreams

The Crawford house was just like any other house full of young people in the summer — his 16-year old daughter, Marly, a senior at Pass Christian High School, was out with friends, while his 13-year-old son, Jackson, was on the computer. Emily and Marissa were playing a friendly game of Uno. And Crawford contemplated on the future of Buddy Ball. He said some exciting changes were under way.

“We’re moving to the Gulfport Sports Complex next season,” he said. “The field we will be using has artificial turf and we’re excited about the move.”

He said he hopes the league will stay there for several years.

“We have a vision of one day having a completely accessible field and facilities for those with disabilities and Gulfport will be the perfect place to have it,” Crawford said. “It’s going to take a lot of money to build it — but we’ve always had some great sponsors and we’re going to start raising the funds for it.”

About the series:

Our Kind of People is a feature in the Sun Herald and at SunHerald.com that spotlights South Mississippi people whose life or work is an inspiration to others.