Softball team honors vets, gives hope
After having already given so much for their country, members of the Wounded Warrior Amputee Softball Team gave infield outs, a few bases and lots of inspiration Sunday.
The WWAST competed in a double-header softball game at the Durham Athletic Park against Durham’s Public Safety Team and local baseball and softball celebrities including former and current professional and collegiate athletes.
The Public Safety Team was comprised of the county Sheriff’s Office, Durham Police Department, Durham EMS, the N.C. Central University Police Department, Duke University Police Department and the Durham Veterans’ Affairs Police Department.
“It is an honor to bring these gentlemen to Durham and give the community a chance to see them in action,” Durham County Sheriff Mike Andrews said. “It’s an honor to recognize all of our veterans in our county, in our state and in our nation. If it wasn’t for men like them we wouldn’t be able to do what we do.”
The Wounded Warriors Amputee Softball Team is made up of servicemen who lost limbs while serving in the military. The amputations vary. Some players are still in the military while some are college students or working civilian jobs across the country.
Durham is the 129th city the team has played in since its inception in April 2011. In North Carolina, it has played in Asheville, Charlotte and Hendersonville.
Durham Deputy Paul Sherwin, public information officer for the county sheriff’s office, which was host for the game, said the partnership for the game started with William Peace University women’s softball coach Charlie Dobbins. He approached the law enforcement agency about helping to host a game.
“There’s no greater honor than to have those gentlemen who have sacrificed so much to come here and play in Durham,” Sherwin said. An Army veteran himself, Sherwin said there is a large veteran population in the sheriff’s department.
WWAST general manager David Van Sleet said his time at the Veterans’ Affairs hospital in prosthetics was the beginning of a now nationally known team.
He spoke of “seeing so many young guys coming back from the war, Afghanistan and Iraq mostly, who looked athletic.”
“They didn’t think they would live,” Van Sleet said. “They definitely didn’t think they’d play a sport again. But because of the advances in prosthetics technology, here they are.”
The WWAST players warmed up on the field just like any others prior to the start of the game. Army veteran Justin Feagin was among the players tossing and catching a few balls during warm-ups.
Having served from 2006-12, Feagin lost his left leg below the knee to a cell-phone -ctivated Improvised Explosive Device. Taking a break from warm-ups, Feagin said he enjoys his new team.
“I love it. The camaraderie is great,” he said. “We all served in the service and being with the guys and having that support around you, it’s great.”
Feagin echoed the WWAST’s slogan, “life without a limb is limitless,” as he encouraged others who are disabled to never give up.
“This is especially true for young kids who haven’t been exposed to disabled sports,” he said. “Just because you’re hurt doesn’t mean you can’t be active and be good at what you do.
The team has given him “ second opportunity to get out and stay active and be productive in what I do,” added Feagin.
Frank Alvarenga of the Veterans’ Affairs Police Department is a U.S. Coast Guard reservist after six and a half years on active duty. Honored to play in Sunday’s game, Alvarenga said that he’s all about supporting his fellow veterans.
“This means a lot to me,” he said. “When they come to the hospital, I help them in anyway possible. To come out here and give to people who have given to our country, I want to give back as much as I can. It hits deep down inside.”