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Soccer players get out of their comfort zone
Baseball player Tyler Thompson and soccer player Katelyn Ladner escort a young player to third base at Josh Reddick Stadium on Thursday. - photo by Mark Lastinger/staff

SPRINGFIELD — They weren't just out of their comfort zone. They weren't even in the same ZIP code.

Soccer players from South Effingham and Effingham United taught baseball skills to special-needs children from the Effingham County Navigator Team at Josh Reddick Stadium on Thursday. 

"This is our first time doing this," Effingham United coach Robert Long said. "They were apprehensive about it, I think, at first, but I had a good discussion with them at the beginning of practice on (Oct. 16). I think the nervousness came in because we are not baseball players."

Gracie Kessler, who plays for South Effingham and Effingham United, wasn't apprehensive at all.

"All I've played is soccer my whole life but I was excited to come out here," she said.

The soccer players are following the lead of South Effingham's baseball and softball teams, which have worked with the Navigators for several weeks. Mustangs booster Tommy Morgan reached out to the soccer teams to replace them since prep baseball workouts will soon preclude them for attending weekly sessions with the special-needs children.

"They wanted the soccer team out here for the last baseball game to kind of transition the Navigators and let us be familiar faces to them because they are so used to the baseball boys and the softball girls," South Effingham assistant coach Kim Morgan said. "We were trying to transition our girls and guys in, too, so that they will be more comfortable when we come out. Baseball and softball will still come out when they can but we are going to continue doing soccer on Thursdays through November."

Kim Morgan said everyone wins through the athletes' association with the Navigator Team.

"Our kids benefit from this," she said. "It gives them a sense of appreciation, a sense of being needed and it also allows them to have a love and a care in their heart for all people, not just people who are like them who can play baseball or play soccer."

Morgan, Long and Kessler enjoy seeing the Navigators break into a smile after hitting the ball or roaming the field.

"It's always good to help someone and actually change their life," Kessler said. "I like being out here. It's fun."

"I hope this will be something that will last a lifetime," Morgan added. "I hope it will make our high school students more caring and loving so we can have a happier community."