Preparing to pitch
Campbell Labonte prepares to throw the opening pitch at the Toronto Blue Jays game on June 18. Campbell was joined on the pitch by his father Bert Labonte, and Jays’ mascot Ace. Courtesy Sensity photo

EMBRUN – On Tues., June 18, Campbell Labonte, 10, his father Bert, and mother Joanna travelled from their home in Embrun (where they have lived for 12 years) to the Rogers Centre in Toronto. It was a very special moment for the family as Campbell threw out the first pitch during the Blue Jays’ game against the Los Angeles Angels. The pitching opportunity was coordinated by Sensity “a registered charity providing services and programs to members of the deafblind community,” as described on their website. Brian Shypula, communications coordinator with Sensity, explained that this is the 9th year that Sensity has sent a delegate to a Blue Jays’ game during the month of June – deafblind awareness month – to throw out the opening pitch. Shypula added that new for the group this year was the singing of the national anthems by the Sensity Choir. He stated that students were borrowed from W. Ross Macdonald school for the blind in Brandford, and they were joined by deafblind individuals and their intervenors to sign and sing the national anthems. Joanna described the moment as “the most moving experience.”

Preparing for the pitch took a lot of time and dedication. Joanna explained that Campbell plays with the Miracle League of Ottawa, and has also been practicing consistently at home and at school. She went on to say that Campbell is greatly motivated by music, “music is a real motivator for him, we try to incorporate it whenever we can.” To tie in Campbell’s love of music, his father, Bert, wanted to link training with a specific cue song, she explained. They decided on Van Halen’s “Panama”. When Campbell would hear the song, he knew he was going to practice his pitch, she noted. Joanna explained that, aided by teacher Pascal Lafrance while at school, Bert and Lafrance would try to keep practices as routine as possible. They would count to three on Campbell’s arm, play “Panama” and Campbell would know it was time to throw the pitch. She added that the Blue Jays coordinated to have “Panama” played over the loud speaker as Campbell came out onto the pitch. 

Joanna described her son as a “funny little guy most of the time,” adding that he is “always teaching us to be joyful and in the moment.” Campbell loves baseball, swimming, and loves to eat, especially chocolate, she noted. She went on to say that he “works hard at everything,” and is “disabled by title, but so abled in so many ways.” As an added surprise on the day for the family, Joanna explained that two teachers from Campbell’s school (Marius Barbeau in Ottawa) Lafrance and Suzanne Piquette LaChapelle drove down to Toronto so they would be in the crowd to cheer Campbell on. 

Joanna and Shypula both spoke about the importance of high profile events like the Blue Jays’ game in bringing awareness to deafblindness. Shypula explained that because “deafblindess is such a low-incidence disability, awareness is our greatest challenge.” In a media release from Sensity, they describe deafblindess as “a distinct disability. It is a combined loss of hearing and vision to the extent neither hearing nor vision can be used as a means of accessing information to participate and be included in the community. Deafblindness can be caused through medical complications, illness, accident or aging.” 

Joanna noted that as a memento of the experience, Campbell was presented with a Blue Jays’ jersey with his name on it, as well as the number 10, representing his number in the Miracle League, as well as his age and a signed baseball.