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LIGHTNING PHOTOS: Cops edge seniors in benefit softball game

Sheriff's Office Maj. Frank Stout and senior softball players Don Ward and Sonny Johnston present a check to Special Needs Sports leader Donnie Jones (in red shirt). Sheriff's Office Maj. Frank Stout and senior softball players Don Ward and Sonny Johnston present a check to Special Needs Sports leader Donnie Jones (in red shirt).

The sheriff's deputies traded side arms and badges for bats and gloves and came out on top by a score of 18-14 over a Henderson County senior softball team in a benefit for Special Needs Sports.

The game featured American Idol contestant Meghan Woods, who sang the national anthem, and Asheville Tourists announcer Tim Lolley, whose son, Michael, a Henderson County sheriff's deputy, played short stop for the cops.

The game raised $5,315 for Special Needs Sports, which operates a baseball and basketball league for children and adults. The money raised will help fund "everything that we do," league founder Donnie Jones said. "Everything that we do is at no cost — equipment, uniforms, trophies, snacks," an end of the year banquet and the annual Special Hearts Valentine's Dance. About half the participants are from Henderson County, the rest from Transylvania, Buncombe, Madison, Polk and Rutherford counties.

"It takes quite a bit because I kind of go overboard," Jones said. "I want the best I can get for them."

Started in 2011 as Special Needs Baseball, the organization has grown from 40 to 152 baseball players and expanded to serve the special needs community year-round. Five years ago, organizer Donnie Jones added basketball and this year he added martial arts.

"It's teaching the kids to focus, concentrate, some coordinatation, how to follow directions and given them good exercise and a little protection," Jones told Hendersonville Lightning media partner WTZQ radio on the Local Focus program Thursday. The youngest player is 2, the oldest if 72 or 73. "They get to be included," Jones said. "They belong to a league just like their siblings do. When they're out on the field, they're all kids."

The senior softball league hoped the exposure will help recruit more players.

"We're putting a big push on this year to try to bring more members to our association," said Sonny Johnston, president of Senior Softball of WNC. "So far we've got about 15 extra people this year but we are trying to continue to grow it. We're hoping that some more people will realize that just because you're 50 or 60 years old, if you've played ball at some point in time, you're welcome to come out and join us. We've got players out there that have been professional baseball players to novice. Anybody that would have any interest we'd love to have them come out and give us a try. It's totally recreational. You can play at any level." For more information about senior softball click here.

To donate to Special Needs baseball click here.