Program allows children with disabilities to play baseball

Matthew Irish plays third base with Lakewood High School’s Cougars. Noah, his 11-year-old brother, is a second baseman and center fielder on a Stilly Valley Little League Majors team. And older brother Jacob Irish is their greatest fan.

Until now, 16-year-old Jacob hadn’t had a chance to play on a baseball team. This season, he’s sporting a regulation uniform and an official Little League patch. Affected by life-threatening Hurler syndrome since birth, Jacob is playing this season on a Stilly Valley Little League Challenger Division team.

New to Arlington’s Stilly Valley Little League, the Challenger program offers the baseball experience to boys and girls with physical, developmental and intellectual disabilities. It’s been part of Little League nationally since 1989.

“This is a brand new program,” said Melanie Irish, the boys’ mother. “We’ve been hoping for it for years. They love baseball, these boys of mine.”

Jacob, whose family lives near Lake Goodwin north of Marysville, was a baby when he was diagnosed at Seattle Children’s Hospital with Hurler syndrome. Sufferers of the rare genetic disease lack an enzyme that breaks down sugar molecules called glycosaminoglycans. Without that enzyme, the molecules, often found in fluid around joints, build up as dead cells and cause damage.

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