Photography: Colin Thompson
In October 1991, Aaron Bliven was born weighing just two pounds 12 ounces. He was diagnosed with cerebral palsy a few months later. It was a diagnosis that his mother, Michelle, admits made her angry. Her anger came from being told her son would not walk or talk.
“It’s not the life a new parent expects their child to have,” says Michelle. “I played the victim for a while and had a pity party for myself. As Aaron grew into this beautiful young child whose smile would light up a room, I realized what a blessing I was given. I had made a decision that Aaron would have the best life that I could provide to him as his mom.”
That decision changed both Michelle’s and Aaron’s lives, and led her to be a blessing to many others in the community of Minot when she started The Dream Catchers Baseball League in 2003. She shares more about the organization.
Tell us a little history of Dream Catchers.
When Aaron was old enough, I coached his t-ball team. He loved being with the other kids. I would help him bat and slowly wheel him around the bases. As Aaron grew older the recreation office said that he would have to move up to the next league which required an adult to pitch to him, and that Aaron would not be able to play because it was a safety issue for both Aaron and the other players. I accepted that for a year and we sat on the outside of the fence watching his brother and sister play ball. Aaron enjoyed watching, but baseball is a player’s sport. The more I thought about it the more I realized that I had to do something. We sat down as a family, and talked about starting a baseball team for children like Aaron. The name came quickly: Dream Catchers. We wanted to provide children a chance to play baseball and live out their dream.
Who can participate in The Dream Catchers Baseball League?
The Dream Catchers Baseball League is for children with moderate to severe physical or intellectual challenges from kindergarten through grade 12. We had 13 players our first season. The league is specifically designed for children who choose not to participate in the summer recreational program due to safety concerns or the child’s physical needs such as braces, walker, or wheelchairs. Each game consists of two innings in which every child bats, runs the bases, and scores. No team score is kept so everyone wins. Each Dream Catchers player has a “buddy” to help them out with playing the game, whether it be fielding, batting, or running the bases. The player’s safety is their first priority. I get buddies from the community.
How have things changed since you founded the Dream Catchers in 2003?
Our organization became known worldwide in 2006 when we were chosen for the show “Extreme Makeover Home Edition.” Then in 2011, the Dream Catchers got a new home. Harvey Herslip, grandfather to four of our players, raised enough money for the Dream Catchers to build their own field. The field itself is constructed entirely from recycled tires. The field is then painted on, including the bases. Children in walkers and wheelchairs love the ease of being able to “run” the bases on their own. The field was dedicated as “Aaron’s Field—Home of the Dream Catchers.” In the most recent years, we have added a bathroom, snack shed, playground, bleachers, and benches. We honor our country, state, and team with flags on three flag poles.
Currently 69 players play every Thursday night in the summer. We have divided them into three games based on age. Players that are signed up are not all from Minot; we have families that will drive almost two hours for their child to participate in a two inning game. After every game we provide players, buddies, and families an opportunity to have snacks and drinks and also make connections with other families facing similar situations. It’s is also a great time for players and buddies to form lasting friendships.
How is Dream Catchers different from other organizations like yours?
We do not request any fee to register. Snacks and drinks are always provided free of charge and at the end of the year every player receives a trophy for their participation in games throughout the summer. Players also receive a free player’s shirt with the Dream Catchers logo on it. Most importantly, Dream Catchers uses reverse inclusion. Instead of the players being placed in the community, we have the community come to us as buddies.
How can people donate or get involved?
Dream Catchers is a nonprofit organization. To donate or become involved in our program, contact Michelle Bliven at 701-720-0553 or by mail at 1701 Meadowlark Drive, Minot, ND 58701. The Dream Catchers always needs groups, clubs, or organizations to be buddies. Monetary donations help purchase shirts, snacks, drinks, and trophies.