BY BARRY WARNER
The District 18 Rockland County Challenger Little League gives kids with special needs the opportunity to succeed at playing baseball in a program structured to their abilities. Winning is not a concern, but making each player feel good is a top priority. Eligibility includes mentally, emotionally and physically challenged youth ages 4-21, who have special needs that prevent them from participating in a traditional little league.
Director Marissa Fremont said, “So many children with special needs enjoying playing baseball, our national pastime. The teams are grouped by ability and not by age, in a safe environment. There are eight teams, with four levels of play. Level 1 serves youngsters 4 to 6-years-old who may be in wheelchairs, play T-ball and are supported by ‘buddies’ who push them around the bases. Level 4 is more competitive and involves balls, strikes and outs. This league started in 1993 and we are celebrating our 21st year, with 90 children registered in the program. We are funded by the West Nyack Little League and are invited to play on little league fields around the county from April to June.”
The Challenger players wear the same uniforms, shoulder patches and safety equipment as other little league kids. Game officials recommend that no score be kept during the baseball games. They may be played as T-ball, coach-pitch, player-pitch or a combination of the three, with everyone getting a chance to bat and circle the bases with or without the aid of a ‘buddy.’
Lydia Rubino said, “I have been volunteering with the program for the last 20 years. It is amazing to watch the children on the Challenger teams. They are successful with smiles on their faces, as they are cheered on by their families. Everyone is accepted in the program and no one is turned away. Individuals over the age of 12 are given an opportunity to assist players over the course of the season. These ‘buddies’ are the players’ own personal coaches and help them learn the basics and fundamentals of baseball.”
The team names include the Cubs, Tigers, Angels and Marlins. They play on a variety of Little league fields around Rockland County including Suffern, South Orangetown, Congers, Nanuet and Pearl River.
‘Buddy’ Bobby Blumenfeld said, “I enjoy helping out players bat, catch, field and run the bases. I am happy to be part of the Challenger League program once a week and it makes my day. The point of the game is less about baseball and more about fun.”
The rules allow the participants to play a team sport in a non-competitive environment. Benefits include playing catch, making new friends, increasing self-esteem, running bases, wearing a uniform and winning certificates and trophies to the cheers of families and friends, during the 3 month season.
For further information WWW.RCChallengerLL.Org