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There's No Handicap in Challenger Division

Horsham Little League's Challenger Division provides an opportunity for children with physical or intellectual disabilities to socialize with others like them.

Imagine trying to play baseball without keeping track of the score, outs, baserunners, or even balls and strikes.

"We don't keep score," said David Shaffer, one of the current coaches for the Challenger division of . "Everybody gets to hit. If it takes you a hundred times to hit the ball, it takes you a hundred times. We help them run around the bases. Wheelchairs are fine. We don't turn anybody away."

The Challenger division has been operating since the 1970s, and it is designed for children with physical or intellectual disabilities. The league had about 20 children when it was created, but it has since expanded to about 90 participants, their ages ranging from 4 to about 35. "It gets bigger and bigger every year," said Shaffer, the former president of Horsham Rotary.

All 20 of the baseball games are at in Horsham.

"It's nice for parents because they don't have to travel out to other places to play," said Stanley Jaskiewicz, the the Challenger division's player agent.

Challenger games, which wrap up this week, are played on Saturday mornings and Tuesday and Thursday afternoons. The league is divided into four teams: blue seniors, blue juniors, gold seniors, and gold juniors.

"The way we divide the teams is that if you can hit the ball hard enough to hurt somebody, you're a senior," Jaskiewicz said. "Then we split into colors."

The highlight of the league's season is a picnic at Deep Meadow Park each June attended by players' families and friends. The picnic includes a visit by the Challenger's mascot, who helps pitch to children. It's obvious by the smiles on the kids' faces that the picnic is a huge success.

"The kids look forward to it every year," Shaffer said. "We get a lot of support from our community to run this. It's the biggest program in Montgomery County for Challenger kids. Everybody enjoys it and everybody has a good time. That's the most important thing."

But, sometimes convincing parents to enroll their child is a challenge in itself, Jaskiewicz said. 

"The biggest obstacle for kids with disabilities is not their disability, it's the parent who says that their child can't," he said. "Some kids really have a challenge but we try and help them find a way to do something at his or her own level ... The key thing is that you have to try. You can't just keep your child inside because he has a disability. You have to try."

Parent Steve Cammarota got that message and reflected on how the Challenger experience has helped his son.

"Playing in the challenger league benefits Sam by giving him a fun environment to enjoy playing a game that almost every kid enjoys," Cammarota said. "It's not about disability, but more about ability. We all have abilities, and we all need a chance to show them to others. Challengers provides that."

Cammarota added that on Saturday mornings when he wakes Sam up for game days by asking if he's ready for some baseball, Sam lets out a resounding "Yessssss!" followed by a "Woohoo," accompanied by showing his parents his throwing, catching, and hitting motions. 

And, in the end, that recreational activity could be Challengers baseball, which helps kids to build confidence - rather than high scores. 

"We offer a chance for kids with disabilities to have a good time," Jaskiewicz said. "We're not particularly concerned if a kid can hit a baseball. We're not concerned at all with winning and losing. If there's a child in our league, I want him to think, 'Today's Saturday. I have a game. I'm going to have fun.' "

Steve Cammarota June 16, 2011 at 08:16 PM
Nice article Bryn! Thanks for taking an interest in the Challenger program, and a special thanks to all the coaches, volunteers, and supporters, especially Stan!! Steve C
Brad Mook June 17, 2011 at 12:31 AM
Great article, great program. I got to see the Challengers in action a few years ago and they were terrific...they had so much fun. I hope my daughter Ellie can play with them some day!

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