Lake Regional Goal Seekers play first softball game
Bobby "Butch" Burney | News-Telegram Sports Editor

April 10, 2006 - Softball is one of the nation's largest participation sports for adults, with literally tens of millions playing. Add about 20 to that number in Hopkins County.

The newest members to the softball fraternity are clients at the Lakes Regional Mental Health Center, which serves adults in the community who have severe and persistent mental illness. This can include major depressive disorder with or without psychotic features, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

Caseworkers at Lakes Regional are providing the patients - or as they are more accurately called, clients - with a softball team to help them get out of the house and work on the same interpersonal skills that most of us use on a daily basis, said center director Liz Allen and caseworker Radona Adams.

"Basically, we've taken a bunch of clients - and it was a client's idea - and formed a softball team," said Adams. "They're getting the same benefits out of it as anyone else who participates in a team sport: building self-esteem, learning to work as a group, things like that."

The team, named "Lakes Regional Goal Seekers" will play their first game at 11 a.m. Tuesday at Coleman Park against clients from the Mount Pleasant mental health center. Groups from Paris and Greenville have indicated they will come and watch, and hopefully can get involved in the games running through May which is Mental Health Month.

They will have closing ceremonies as well, with a hot dog picnic, certificates for completing the curriculum and ribbons and trophies.

 Softball not only provides an athletic activity - and studies have shown that physical activity can help mental acuteness - but, it allows the caseworkers to teach the clients in a setting which has so far been more attractive than the classroom.

The disorders that the clients endure can "profoundly disrupt a person's thinking, feeling, mood, ability to maintain relationships and capacity for coping with the demands of life," Allen said. "The clinic provides outpatient medication, psychiatric rehabilitation, vocational support, counseling and crisis intervention services."

Some of those now come on the diamond.

Allen said each softball practice has a specific curriculum attached to it for learning about healthy lifestyles. These include diet, exercise, recreation, entertainment, laughter and social activities.

While the caseworkers sometimes have trouble getting a group into a classroom setting, they haven't had a problem getting them to the softball field.

"We provide transportation to get them to the activity, to get them out of the house," Adams explained. "Some of them are still reluctant, but we kind of push them in this direction and once they've gotten there, they've joined right in.

"They're all feeling good about themselves. When we would do a group in the clinic as a classroom, we might have a good turnout or not. Once we've started softball, everybody is coming. We're still teaching the same skills we would inside the clinic, but we're just going in a different way about teaching it."

The results, she said have already been profound.

She talked about one man who has emphysema so severe he has trouble walking to his neighbor's home. When he started playing softball, Adams would run for him, until one day he said he wanted to run to first base himself.

"I didn't think he could do it," she said, "but he ran to first base. It's just been inspiring."

Another woman who Allen said has spent more time in the Terrell mental hospital than out of it in the last year now tells her family when they call to check up on her, "I'm playing softball."

"This is something the normal community does," Allen said. "This makes them feel like a part of the normal community, so it's good for them."

Whether the clients come out of the winning end or not against their East Texas competition, the softball practices and games have helped them in their steps toward normalcy.

Allen said the team members have learned to "empower themselves in their daily lives and to be positive role models."

"We have clients with different levels in terms of their functioning in the community, and they all work together. The ones that function at a higher level help motivate those that don't function at an optimal level," Adams said. "They're feeling a  lot of pride in being able to participate in something like this. 

"For some of them, it's been a long time since they've been involved in anything."

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