Bryce Weiler dreams of making dreams come true, even when a pandemic puts those dreams on hold for a little while.
As co-founder of the Beautiful Lives Project along with New Britain Bees owner Anthony Iacovone, Weiler is an expert at helping dreamers. After COVID-19 fizzles out, the 29-year-old sportscaster from Illinois can’t wait to continue BLP events, which present disabled people around the U.S. opportunities to become active participants where they never imagined they could.
Fans of the Bees might remember witnessing the non-profit’s activities at the New Britain Stadium the last three summers. Guests with special needs were brought onto the field at home stadium before many games, where they enjoyed Wiffle ball with Bees’ players and got to run the same bases as their athlete heroes.
“We should have a lot more events and programs coming up once this pandemic ends,” said Weiler, who was born four months premature, developed retinopathy and became blind.
While attending college at the University of Evansville, basketball coach Marty Simmons gave this sightless young man the chance to sit on the team’s bench for four years.
“It really changed my life being around sports,” Weiler recalled. “It was something I didn’t know I would be able to do since I can’t see. I was really thankful.”
Weiler went on to earn a master’s degree in sports administration from Western Illinois University and has developed several programs for disabled fans since.
He contacted the Bees back in 2017 and Iacavone was thrilled to get on board and help Weiler found the BLP.
“I wanted to give people who were blind or disabled the opportunity to play on the field with their favorite teams,” Weiler said. “Meeting anyone, no matter what their challenge or disability is in their life, is something I value.”
BLP has chapters around the country that put together events for people with disabilities, in the realm of art, music, sports and more. National development director and president of Connecticut’s BLP Chapter Tony Gionfriddo used to be director of sales for the Bees, and that’s how he met Weiler.
“He used to commentate at the Bees’ games and is just a great inspiration,” Giofriddo remembered. “When I retired from the Bees after the 2019 season, Anthony and Bryce gave me the opportunity to work with BLP. The fulfillment and inspirations that I have received and the wonderful new friends I have made have been incredible. Our team is excited to resume our events throughout the country when the conditions are safe to do so.”
Last December, Gionfriddo organized an event at the New Britain Museum of American Art with CCARC.
“We decorated a tree and ate pizza; it just gave these individuals a chance to get out and socialize and they loved it,” he said.
This year he had a variety of events planned with New Britain’s Unified School District, from tennis lessons to Field of Dreams. The group was even planning a field trip to the May 29 Boston Red Sox game thanks to a generous donation from the Red Sox Foundation. All events were cancelled through at least June, due to the pandemic.
“When we can get back on track we’re going full force,” said Gionfriddo, who’s working to bring the Harlem Wizards to New Britain this coming fall.
For now though, events across America are all on hold. Weiler can’t wait for BLP to resume activities.
“While the events we’ve set up are fantastic,” he said, “it’s really about giving these individuals the opportunities to create lifelong friendships and bonds that can last forever.”
Erica Drzewiecki can be reached at email@example.com.