Everyone Can Play!™ was founded by Owen Sarwatka in 2010, while he was a sophomore at Tampa Catholic High School in Tampa, Florida. While working on his Boy Scout of America Eagle Scout Leadership Service Project, Owen developed Everyone Can Play!™ as a conduit to channel his passion for baseball with his desire to share this experience with children who never had the opportunity to play the game he loves.
Owen decided to work with the Little League Challenger Divisions in Tampa, Florida. The Challenger Division was established in 1989 as a separate division of Little League to enable boys and girls with physical and mental challenges, ages 4-18, or up to age 22 if still enrolled in high school, to enjoy the game of baseball along with the millions of other children who participate in this sport worldwide. Challenger Teams are set up according to abilities, rather than age, and can include as many as 15-20 players. Challenger baseball encourages the use of "buddies" for the Challenger players. The buddies assist the Challenger players on the field but whenever possible, encourage the players to bat and make plays themselves. However, the buddy is always nearby to help when needed.
His Eagle Scout Leadership Project was to hold a one day Baseball Skills Camp that buddies up Tampa Catholic High School athletes with Challenger athletes. This camp gave our high school athletes an opportunity to give back to their community, and benefited Challenger athletes by being able to work with more experienced players. This program also increased public awareness of the Challenger program, and brought more children with special needs into this program to show them that Everyone Can Play Baseball.
Everyone Can Play!™ held its first even on January 15, 2011 at Bloomingdale Little League in Valrico, Florida. The day was a great success, and included the participation of over 300 high school athletes, special needs children, and volunteers. There were 16 special needs children that never played baseball before, who signed up for a Challengers Baseball program because of this event.
Community, people helping people, kids mentoring kids and coming together for one great day.
Owen learned about the Challengers Baseball program while watching the All-Star game on TV with his mom. During the pregame coverage, he saw a story on the Little Leagues Challenger Division. This division is specially designed for kids with physical and/or mental disabilities to be able to play the game of baseball; a game that Owen loves so much. While going over a list of events leading up to the All Star game, Challenger kids get together with MLB stars and play on the same field as the big game. Owen thought this was a special gift for these kids and a worthy program, and immediately started working on ways to work with the Challengers program for his Eagle Project.
As a fourth generation Yankee fan, Owen has grown up hearing the stories from his mom about how her father took her to Yankee Stadium many times each season since the time she was five. Theses stories included tales of Old Timers’ Day, seeing Babe Ruth’s wife, the great Mickey Mantle, and watching people like Reggie Jackson hit homeruns. His grandfather also talked about how his dad would bring him to the occasional game and when he was old enough, he and his friends would make that trip down Rt.80, across the George Washington Bridge and over to Jerome Ave. to the greatest place in the world, Yankee Stadium.
On the morning of the All Star Game Owen was in the doctor’s office waiting to have some test done when the tragic news of Mr. Steinbrenner’s death came across the TV screen. He sat and watched as the tears streamed down his moms face as she called her father to share the sad news. Mr. Steinbrenner has always been considered a hero to Owen and his family, and an inspiration to the people living in the Tampa community. Owen knew at that moment that his project needed to be about baseball, celebrate the kids in his community and pay tribute to a man who gave so freely to so many.
Being a member or the baseball team, Owen approached Head Coach Pat Russo and asked if he would be interested in helping with his Eagle project. Without hesitation Coach Russo said absolutely. "It would involve the entire baseball team" and again, without hesitation Coach Russo replied, "Great, you can count on us, we are in". Owen explained his idea for the project; a one day baseball skills clinic where each baseball player would "buddy up" with a special needs child for the day to inspire kids to try the game of baseball as well as motivate the kids currently in the Challenger program in an event called "Everyone Can Play!".
After the success of the first event, Owen started contacting other area high schools to see if they would be interested in expanding this program. The Everyone Can Play!™ program was accepted with great excitement, and is currently working on coordinating events throughout the entire USA.