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Ramstein's James Lucas, left, pitches while his buddy, Nicholas Waller, and Master Sgt. Ronald Denisi watch during the adaptive sports softball game at Ramstein Air Base, on Monday, May 2, 2016.

Ramstein's James Lucas, left, pitches while his buddy, Nicholas Waller, and Master Sgt. Ronald Denisi watch during the adaptive sports softball game at Ramstein Air Base, on Monday, May 2, 2016. (Michael B. Keller/Stars and Stripes)

Ramstein's James Lucas, left, pitches while his buddy, Nicholas Waller, and Master Sgt. Ronald Denisi watch during the adaptive sports softball game at Ramstein Air Base, on Monday, May 2, 2016.

Ramstein's James Lucas, left, pitches while his buddy, Nicholas Waller, and Master Sgt. Ronald Denisi watch during the adaptive sports softball game at Ramstein Air Base, on Monday, May 2, 2016. (Michael B. Keller/Stars and Stripes)

The Kaiserslautern Middle School adaptive sports softball team pitches while Ramstein Middle School bats during a softball game at Ramstein Air Base, on Monday, May 2, 2016.

The Kaiserslautern Middle School adaptive sports softball team pitches while Ramstein Middle School bats during a softball game at Ramstein Air Base, on Monday, May 2, 2016. (Michael B. Keller/Stars and Stripes)

Kaiserslautern's Johnny Karaca gets a high five after scoring during the adaptive sports softball game at Ramstein Air Base, on Monday, May 2, 2016. The event was part of Kaiserslautern Military Community Adaptive Sports, a program designed to give students with moderate to severe learning disabilities opportunities to play team sports.

Kaiserslautern's Johnny Karaca gets a high five after scoring during the adaptive sports softball game at Ramstein Air Base, on Monday, May 2, 2016. The event was part of Kaiserslautern Military Community Adaptive Sports, a program designed to give students with moderate to severe learning disabilities opportunities to play team sports. (Michael B. Keller/Stars and Stripes)

Ramstein's James Lucas swings at the ball at Ramstein Air Base, on Monday, May 2, 2016. The event was part of Kaiserslautern Military Community Adaptive Sports, which originated several years ago to fill the void left when the German-American Special Olympics in the Rheinland-Palatinate was disbanded due to lack of funding.

Ramstein's James Lucas swings at the ball at Ramstein Air Base, on Monday, May 2, 2016. The event was part of Kaiserslautern Military Community Adaptive Sports, which originated several years ago to fill the void left when the German-American Special Olympics in the Rheinland-Palatinate was disbanded due to lack of funding. (Michael B. Keller/Stars and Stripes)

Ramstein's James Lucas runs to first base during the adaptive sports softball game at Ramstein Air Base, on Monday, May 2, 2016.

Ramstein's James Lucas runs to first base during the adaptive sports softball game at Ramstein Air Base, on Monday, May 2, 2016. (Michael B. Keller/Stars and Stripes)

The Ramstein Middle School adaptive sports softball team takes its turn pitching during a softball game at Ramstein Air Base, on Monday, May 2, 2016. The event was part of Kaiserslautern Military Community Adaptive Sports, a program designed to give students with moderate to severe learning disabilities opportunities to play team sports.

The Ramstein Middle School adaptive sports softball team takes its turn pitching during a softball game at Ramstein Air Base, on Monday, May 2, 2016. The event was part of Kaiserslautern Military Community Adaptive Sports, a program designed to give students with moderate to severe learning disabilities opportunities to play team sports. (Michael B. Keller/Stars and Stripes)

Signs encouraging players hang on the fence during the adaptive sports softball game at Ramstein Air Base, on Monday, May 2, 2016.

Signs encouraging players hang on the fence during the adaptive sports softball game at Ramstein Air Base, on Monday, May 2, 2016. (Michael B. Keller/Stars and Stripes)

Ramstein Middle School's James Lucas, right, cheers for his teammates with his buddy Nicholas Waller at Ramstein Air Base, on Monday, May 2, 2016. The event was part of Kaiserslautern Military Community Adaptive Sports program,  which originated several years ago to fill the void left when the German-American Special Olympics in the Rheinland-Palatinate was disbanded due to lack of funding.

Ramstein Middle School's James Lucas, right, cheers for his teammates with his buddy Nicholas Waller at Ramstein Air Base, on Monday, May 2, 2016. The event was part of Kaiserslautern Military Community Adaptive Sports program, which originated several years ago to fill the void left when the German-American Special Olympics in the Rheinland-Palatinate was disbanded due to lack of funding. (Michael B. Keller/Stars and Stripes)

Ramstein Middle School's Josh Davis, center, congratulates fellow players after the adaptive sports softball game at Ramstein Air Base, on Monday, May 2, 2016.

Ramstein Middle School's Josh Davis, center, congratulates fellow players after the adaptive sports softball game at Ramstein Air Base, on Monday, May 2, 2016. (Michael B. Keller/Stars and Stripes)

Kaiserslautern's Karin Fairchild looks at her trophy after the softball game at Ramstein Air Base, on Monday, May 2, 2016. The event was part of Kaiserslautern Military Community Adaptive Sports, a program designed to give students with moderate to severe learning disabilities opportunities to play team sports.

Kaiserslautern's Karin Fairchild looks at her trophy after the softball game at Ramstein Air Base, on Monday, May 2, 2016. The event was part of Kaiserslautern Military Community Adaptive Sports, a program designed to give students with moderate to severe learning disabilities opportunities to play team sports. (Michael B. Keller/Stars and Stripes)

RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany — James Lucas did it all in the softball game against his peers Monday. He whipped around the bases, threw a few pitches and hit the ball.

But the big smile on his face suggests that the best thing happened after the game: His “buddy” gave him a piggyback ride and he earned a shiny, gold medal that he plans to put in his room.

Lucas, a seventh-grader at Ramstein Middle School, was one of about 20 students from Ramstein and Kaiserslautern middle and high schools to play a special game of softball Monday at Donnelly Park on Ramstein.

The event was part of Kaiserslautern Military Community Adaptive Sports, a program designed to give students with moderate-to-severe learning disabilities opportunities to play team sports.

The program originated several years ago to fill the void left when the German-American Special Olympics in the Rhineland-Pfalz was disbanded because of lack of funding. A Ramstein master sergeant with a special-needs child started the adaptive sports program, and the KMC 1st Four — a private organization on base for junior enlisted airmen — took over after the master sergeant moved, said Airman 1st Class Allison Malaska, a KMC 1st Four member.

“We have medals, we have people come out and cheer; it’s a good day for the kids just to feel like this is all about them,” she said.

The athletes played for about an hour. They each had a “buddy” with them in the field and while at bat, courtesy of the European Guzzlers, a local softball team with active-duty and civilian players.

The game was played with few rules, no score-keeping and modified equipment. The bat was foam and the ball squishy, both good things because bats went flying a few times and a ball landed on someone’s head. Everyone took several turns at the plate, and foul balls counted as hits. Students ran the bases with much encouragement from their buddies.

“It was a blast,” said Josh Davis, a Ramstein High School senior. “I got to meet one of my best friends over here,” he added, patting the arm of his buddy, Tech. Sgt. Robby Harrison.

“This guy’s a gamer, and he loves the same music as I do,” Davis said, rattling off hip-hop, R&B, dance/electronic “and a little bit of country.”

Special-needs students sometimes play sports at school, whether in gym class or at school recess, said Brianna Phillips, a special education teacher at Ramstein Middle School. The other kids “celebrate them,” she said, but adaptive sports levels the playing field.

“Everyone wins, everyone gets a turn to hit, everyone scores, everyone gets a medal,” she said. “I think that the kids can feel like it’s a competitive game in the sense of, ‘Oh, let me score a run’ or ‘I’m doing this for my team.’ ”

The kids will get another chance to earn a medal in June, when local organizers take their first crack at bringing back the Special Olympics to Kaiserslautern.

About 75 athletes from Department of Defense Education Activity Europe schools in Germany are slated to participate in the June 3 games at the Ramstein Southside Fitness Center, said Wanda Castillo, a special education teacher at Kaiserslautern High School.

“The kids love it. It’s their day to shine,” she said of adaptive sports and Special Olympics. “It gives them an opportunity to get out and show their stuff and have a good time.”

svan.jennifer@stripes.com

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Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.
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