Kettering students invent device so friend can throw first pitch at Dragons game

A Kettering elementary school student with limited physical movement threw out the ceremonial first pitch at the Dayton Dragons game Friday night, using a device created by a classmate.

Prass Elementary third-grader Lola Zimmer’s apparatus helped fifth-grader Neil, who suffers from cerebral palsy and can only use his arms slightly, throw a ball by activating a head switch.

A project that Prass Principal Jennifer Paxson said “brought the school together” put both Lola and Neil in the spotlight Friday night at Day Air Ballpark.

“I wanted him to experience the same things others can experience,” Lola said about Neil.

“And I kind of like helping people … And we wanted to improve his ability to throw a ball,” she added.

The device, dubbed Neil’s Green Machine, was a project for the school’s Invention Convention, said Kettering City Schools gifted intervention specialist Casey McBride.

Lola said she started making it after it became known last winter that Neil wanted to throw a snowball.

Usually confined to a wheelchair, Neil “is quite the active kid. He loves sports, especially baseball, the color green, dogs, and just wants to be able to throw a ball,” McBride said in an email.

Using her grandfather’s workshop, Lola said the parts for Neil’s Green Machine include nuts, bolts, wood, a cup, screws, a motor, a spring and a rubber band. With support from fellow students, teachers, parents and grandparents, the machine was built.

“It took a really long time to build it because it’s big and there’s a lot of (electrical) stuff that goes on it,” she said.

“Originally,” McBride said, “we didn’t know Neil other than seeing him in the hallway and cheering him on. But now that he’s come to our classroom and we’ve been involved with him, all our students are on his side.

“Lola’s definitely more connected to him because she’s had to talk to him personally about things,” she added. “(But) it’s not just Lola and Neil. It’s Prass and Neil now.”

McBride’s story about Lola and Neil made its way to Luke Campbell, the Dayton Dragons manager of corporate partnerships, a school district official said.

Campbell told McBride he was “truly taken aback by the creativity, ingenuity, and empathy displayed by your students.”

The effort by the families of Lola and Neil, and other Prass students and staff “is well above and beyond anything we could have asked for the Invention Convention,” McBride said. “It’s been an amazing community building experience.”

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