WATERVILLE — It was 60 degrees just after 5:30 Wednesday evening when the lights came on at Purnell Wrigley Field. It was a perfect fall night for softball.

On this night, the Red Sox would play the Cubs, the two teams in the Unified softball program run by the Alfond Youth & Community Center. Unified sports programs for students with special needs have grown in Maine high schools over the past few years. The AYCC’s program began in January for adults. The goal is to expand the inclusion playing sports brings to these athletes after they leave high school.

Athletes of all ages took part in the softball league.

If you’re looking for athletes who truly play for the love of the game, for the sheer joy that hitting a ball and running brings, Unified softball is it. Before he threw the first pitch to begin the game, Cubs pitcher Peter Mahoney looked over his defense, and smiled.

The program was the idea of Sawyer Boulette, the AYCC’s wellness director, who attended the Special Olympics World Games in Abu Dhabi last year. Erica Fredrick-Rock was soon brought on to coordinate the Unified club.

“I truly believe I have the best job in the world,” Fredrick-Rock said.


The AYCC offers Unified sports year-round. Last winter, there was walking and basketball. The COVID-19 pandemic shut down in-person programs last spring, but Fredrick-Rock was still able to offer some activities such as bingo, trivia, drawing lessons, and in-home scavenger hunts via Zoom. As the state eased into Phase 1 of reopening, the Unified athletes began taking walks on some of the area trails. In the summer, there was 1-on-1 cycling and team bocce, as well as day trips to Camp Tracy in Oakland to try kayaking, archery, and the camp’s ropes course.

The fall included not just softball, but mini golf, too. Now, with days getting shorter and fall in full swing, the softball season is coming to a close.

Red Sox hitter Isabelle DeGraf hits a grounder up the middle to applause all around. Her teammate Kristian Joliat laces a line drive to center field for a hit.

Players are paired with a partner, who are there to give a hand and encouragement. When Cubs player Marie Bolstad had a clutch hit, she was greeted with a high-five as first base by her partner.

In the second inning, the pleasing smell of barbecue cooking nearby is a slight distraction to everybody on the field, but not for long. Standing at first base after his hit, Red Sox player Sean Hallee offered encouragement to teammate Nick Belanger at the plate.

“Wait for your pitch, Nick buddy,” Hallee said.


Athletes come from across central Maine, Fredrick-Rock said. Partners, too. Some partners are family members of athletes. Some just want to help people enjoy playing the game.

Red Sox slugger Malcolm Lavalee takes a cut during a Unified softball game Wednesday at Purnell Wrigley Field in Waterville. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

Red Sox player Sage Turmelle runs to first base, hard, despite the ball going foul by a great deal.

“I don’t care if it was a foul ball,” Turmelle said, to the delight of  anyone who appreciates hustle.

When the program began in January, it had approximately 15 athletes and 15 partners, Fredrick-Rock said. Now, it has 30 athletes and 45 partners. Fredrick-Rock would like to see the program expand to 50 athletes and 75 partners by April. With the fantastic work she and everybody involved in the program have put in already, that sounds like a realistic goal.

Cub Marc Cote reaches first base. His mother, Jessica Cote, leans against the fence and tries to get his attention, but Marc is focused on the batter. Nick Elkins smacks a double to right to drive in two Cubs and cut his team’s deficit to two runs. A single by Mahoney cuts the Red Sox lead to one run.

Red Sox partner Kevin Taft yells instructions to his team, and realizes he needs to choose his words carefully.


“Knock down the lead runner. Well, don’t really knock him down,” Taft said with a chuckle.

In a late game at-bat, Joliat let’s a low pitch go by without a swing.

“Give me something to hit,” he said, pausing. “Jackie Robinson. ’42.'” The reference may have been lost on the pitcher, but it proved Joliat is a fan of the game.

Cubs player Marie Bolstad (8) gets a high-five from Molly Woodwoard during a Unified softball game Wednesday at Purnell Wrigley Field in Waterville. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

In the final inning, Cub batter Luke Thompson makes solid contact and runs to first base, the bat still in his right hand. Anyone who has felt that brief shock up their arm when bat meets ball perfectly understands. In that moment, the bat is an extension of the arm. You don’t want to drop it. It’s power.

The Red Sox took Wednesday’s three-inning game, 17-10. There is one game left in the season, Oct. 21 at 5:45 p.m. at Purnell Wrigley Field. Coming in November, Fredrick-Rock said, is a walking club and team volleyball.

As the Red Sox and Cubs left the field, the most important question was asked. Did everyone have fun tonight?


The answer came in smiles raised baseball gloves, and was obvious.


Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242


Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

Related Headlines

Comments are not available on this story.