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CISD Special Education Director Combines Love for Kids with Love of the Game

            Cleburne ISD Special Education Director Cory Borden has combined his dedication to students with his love of the game in serving as Commissioner of the Cleburne Baseball and Softball Association Champions League.

            Organized in 2019, the CBSA Champions League provides children with physical or intellectual disabilities, that may prevent them from participating in a traditional program, with the opportunity to “play ball!”

            Borden just ended his first season as Champions Commissioner, while also overseeing the CBSA Cubbies League.

            “I grew up playing baseball,” Borden said. “It was my first sport and something I’ve always enjoyed doing. It’s great being back on the field, sharing something I love with these kids.”

            “Champions takes inclusion to the ballfield in giving kids the opportunity to be active and participate in a league designed just for them,” Borden said. “They enjoy practice, playing and being out here on Saturdays, just like the rest of the teams.”

            Additional safety measures are in place for players, from equipment to buddies that often accompany them onto the field as they bat, field and run the bases. Age groups for Champions League players are 5-8; 9-12; 13-16 and 17-21, based on relative age and skill level.

There’s always a list of Cleburne baseball teams ready to take on the Champions who, like them, are learning the game and building on their skills.

            “Our players are here to learn the baseball fundamentals—where to go, the rules of the game and the various positions,” Borden said. “My role, as league commissioner, is to maintain the pace of the game—and safety—and provide lots of encouragement.”

            A supportive fan base is always present at a Champions game—including the opposing team and coaches.

            “Our players have their names, along with their numbers, on the jerseys,” Borden said. “That helps the fans cheer them on. Hearing your name called is something we all enjoy. We also encourage our kids to cheer on their teammates and members of the team they are playing. We want our players to demonstrate good sportsmanship.”

            The Cleburne Baseball and Softball Association is dedicated to covering all the bases in sponsoring a Champions League. There is no registration fee for participants.

            “Stewart Title sponsors their shirts and Lorri Landeros, who is the branch operations manager, also brings the aftergame snacks,” Borden said. “We were able to have 30 kids participate in the spring, and we would like to see that grow. I would love to have 300 kids from throughout Johnson County participating in our Champions League.”

            Jessica Mercer is the mom of a Champions player and has also served as a volunteer coach. Her son, Jace, has participated in the program since it was first introduced in Cleburne.

            “Having a special needs child is challenging in itself,” Mercer said. “As a parent, you don’t always have a lot of people to connect with. Through Champions, we have made friends and met great parents—it’s meant a lot to us. This has provided us with a community where we are loved and accepted.”

            “I was very honored to be asked to coach,” she said. “I was grateful for the opportunity to be even more involved, and it gave me the chance to get to know the moms of other players.”

            Mercer views her eight-year-old’s involvement in the Champions League as a game-changer.

            “I think it’s helped Jace come out of his shell,” Mercer said. “He is not always comfortable being around people or interacting with them—but that’s changed,” she said. “He’s engaging in the game and participating with others. He enjoys hitting the ball—and he can do it without any help. This season, after hitting the ball, he took off for first base on his own. That was huge.”

            Mercer is hopeful that the CBSA Champions League will soon be joined by additional sports programs tailored for special needs players and athletes.    

            “I would love to see a soccer program introduced for our special needs friends,” she said. “Jace is very active—he loves to run. It’s important for a community to have activities and programs for all kids.”

            Mercer is also grateful for Borden’s commitment to children—on the job and on the ballfield.

            “Cory has been wonderful,” she said. “He has a passion for these kids and he has a great heart. We are so thankful for him. We’ve always been told, as parents, we needed to be advocates for our children and fight for their rights. Anytime we have had a need, Cory has been there to listen, understand and help.”

            Borden, who has been a member of the CBSA governing board for three years, views what he does in CISD and in this latest opportunity to serve, as a joy, not a job.

            “I don’t consider what I do as work,” he said. “This environment—seeing kids outside and playing—it’s important for all kids. It’s great to also see their parents get out and see them compete. We’ve had teachers come out for the games. Our players—all players—love to see their teachers come by just to see them and watch them in action.”

             The biggest game of the spring was the Champions versus members of the Cleburne Fire Department. Borden is hoping to see that continue, while adding the Cleburne Railroaders to the schedule.

            “The smiles on our kids’ faces, and the love on the faces of the firefighters made for a great day,” he said. “It was priceless—that’s all the kids talked about that next week, getting to play the firefighters.”

            Registration for the Champions League fall season is now underway, with games to begin in September. All games are played at the Cleburne Sports Complex. For more information: