Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Challenger Little League

Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Challenger Little League

Article excerpt

In Little League's Challenger Division, children with disabilities not only play baseball, but become team players.

Our house buzzed with excitement when we learned that our 14-year-old son, Nathan, would finally have the opportunity to wear a Little League uniform. He looked forward to the first game with such enthusiasm that he daily dressed in his uniform and paraded in front of the mirror to admire how much he looked like every other Little Leaguer ...

Nathan catches up with the rest of Pappy's Pizza team while I head for the bleachers. I can hear one of his teammates, Richard Fournier, talking up the game. "I hope all our good hitters show up today," he said. Richard's mom, who is sitting next to me, shares the boy's enthusiasm.

Our conversation is interrupted by the sound of the loudspeaker announcing that the game is about to begin. Pappy's Pizza is up first. We focus on home plate. Richard, #20 - the fastest person in the league - is batting first. Here comes the pitch ... swing ... line drive into left field. Richard burns rubber for a base hit!

Chris is up next. Number 4 is printed on his jersey, but he's #1 in the hearts of all the fans. Chris already had three years in Tee ball to his credit before joining this league. Today this experience pays off. He smacks the ball so hard into center field that he almost hits the catcher's knee pads off.

Pappy's surely prepared for this game and they continue to hit the ball all over the field. After all the team players have a chance at bat, it's their turn in the field. Patty plays first base. The very next batter hits a line drive and slides safely into first base right under her.

Over the loudspeaker we hear that the last runner beat the pitcher to home plate so it's Pappy's turn to bat again. I chuckle as Nathan approaches home plate with a wide grin on his face. He kicks his spikes clean as he emulates his idol, Carlton Fisk. Clutching his bat in his hands, he smacks a single to center field. After drilling three hits and playing four positions, he finally scores a run in the fourth and final inning for his team's game-winning rally. He crosses the plate to the sound of enthusiastic cheers from his teammates and fans who have come to watch. There are post-game handshakes and high-fives with his teammates and all are treated to pizza and drinks.

Nathan and Chris have Down syndrome, and Richard and Patty use wheelchairs - one has muscular dystrophy and the other has cerebral palsy. Yes, these children play in the Little League. No longer do they sit on the sidelines munching popcorn and watching their brothers and sisters compete on the baseball diamond.

"Never in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine that Patty would play organized ball," said Patty's mom, Marjorie Burke. "This past summer she was given that opportunity. It came in the form of Little League's Challenger Division. Patty has seen enough of team sports to last a lifetime. But it was, of course, always for others. Now, for the first time, the question |Does Patty have a game tonight?' was music to our ears and a symphony to hers! Patty was a team member complete with uniform, team schedule and team photo! She relished every minute of being an active, participating member of the Challenger Division. Most of all, it afforded her that special feeling of belonging, which was a terrific boost for her self-esteem."

Previously relegated to the bleachers, children with physical or mental disabilities have been encouraged to take to the field and become part of Little League Baseball's new program called the Challenger Division. According to Dr. Creighton J. Hale, president of Little League Baseball, Little League filled a void when they extended their program to include children with mental or physical disabilities. Even the division's name, Challenger, reflects the children's determination to rise above their disabilities. The name defines the participants' efforts as positive while they learn not only the fundamentals of baseball but how to pull together as a team. …

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