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BEYOND THE GAME: PLAYMAKERS’ JOURNEY OF INCLUSION AND A COMMUNITY IN LONG BEACH

By Kathryn Wells

Photos by Monique Kuhlman



The Playmakers organization in Long Beach stands as a beacon of hope, community, and transformative power, leveraging sports to open a world of possibilities for differently-abled individuals.


Playmakers provide adaptive sports programs for differently-abled individuals, meeting regularly at various locations tailored to each sport, due to the absence of a dedicated facility. They adapt venues—like parks, community centers, or indoor spaces—to ensure accessibility for activities such as baseball, basketball, dance, and boccia. Playmakers adeptly navigate the logistical challenges of varying venues to bring sports to life for those they serve. Meetings offer regular opportunities for participants to engage, learn, and grow through the sports they love.


An ‘I Didn’t Know’ Problem

Ron Krajniak, the board chair, and Susan Graham, one of the co-founders, helm this vessel with vision and unwavering commitment. They spotlight a critical challenge that underscores their mission: “We don’t have an ‘I don’t care’ problem; we have an ‘I didn’t know’ problem.” This revelation underscores the essence of Playmakers’ battle against the obscurity surrounding adaptive sports, advocating for heightened awareness and accessibility.


The financial backbone of Playmakers is as community-centric as its mission, relying heavily on donations, modest participant fees, and fundraising activities. Krajniak elaborates, “Most of it is through donations... and fundraisers,” highlighting the indispensable role of community and corporate patrons in fueling their endeavors. This synergy between the organization and its benefactors is pivotal, ensuring the continuity and expansion of these vital programs.



A Family Affair

Beyond providing a platform for physical engagement, Playmakers serves as a crucible for social interaction, personal development, and communal unity. From the introduction of Boccia (similar to Bocce but designed specifically for accessibility) to the staples of baseball and basketball, each sport becomes a conduit for participants to experience achievement, joy, and a profound sense of belonging. Yet, the impact of these programs is magnified by the involvement of entire families—siblings and parents alongside the differently-abled, all partaking in and supporting the Playmakers cause.


This collective participation underscores a unique aspect of Playmakers’ philosophy: inclusivity transcends the individual. It fosters a familial atmosphere where siblings are not merely spectators but active participants, and parents find a supportive community, sharing experiences, triumphs, and challenges. This holistic approach not only enriches the lives of those directly involved but also cultivates a broader culture of understanding, acceptance, and advocacy within the community.


As Playmakers casts its gaze forward, the ambition is clear: to broaden its reach, diversify its offerings, and deepen its impact. This vision is a resonant call to the Long Beach community and beyond, urging involvement, whether through volunteering, financial support, or advocacy. 


Through the shared journey of Playmakers, this article beckons readers to embrace the transformative impact of adaptive sports. It’s a testament to how awareness, compassion, and collective action can sculpt a world brimming with opportunities for play, competition, and belonging for everyone.

SPRING INTO ACTION!

Volunteers = Success

The success of Playmakers hinges on its volunteers— the lifeblood of the organization. “We also have so much room for volunteers, like across the board,” Graham points out, signaling a call to arms for those who can lend their time, skills, or resources. The invitation to volunteer spans a spectrum of roles, from coaching and mentoring to logistical and administrative support, each critical in weaving the fabric of the Playmakers community.


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