Weston Little League hosts Challenger Baseball


Amy Rutowski

Players huddle with their coach during a practice.

Natalie Rassinger , Staff Writer

In May and the beginning of June, Ann McAvinn, the league director, hosted the annual Weston Little League Challenger Baseball Division, a program that encourages students with intellectual disabilities to participate in learning the game of baseball, gaining skills and even playing in games at Burchard Park in Weston. 

   This division was established globally in 1989 as a separate little league to enable girls and boys with physical and mental challenges, ages five through eighteen and up to age twenty-two if still in high school, the ability to play baseball at different levels.  Some students at WHS have become involved in this program to work with McAvinn and the players.

   “Challenger Baseball is not a fundraiser, but instead, the events are more similar to baseball practices for individuals with physical or developmental differences,” senior Liam Falvey said.

   Regardless of the fact that little league Challenger Baseball has been around for over thirty years, the Challenger league did not develop in Weston until ten years ago.

   “I brought this [program to Weston] because it was around when I was younger in the town next to mine. I remember helping out there as much as I could and it was such a good experience,” McAvinnr said.

   McAvinn’s work as a speech therapist and volunteering with Challenger as a team led her to make a proposal to the Weston baseball board in 2010. Matt Schulman and Amy Rutkowski, board members, thought it was a great idea and wanted to get involved. 

   “I am so happy that we brought this event to Weston,” McAvinn said. “Everyone is always so happy and encouraging. The good thing about this event is that it is completely free, and student volunteers report that the experience is incredibly rewarding and some college students even return to help out.”

   The teams are determined based on abilities rather than age and can be played as t-ball games, coach pitch, player pitch, or a combination of the three. 

   “I think that Challenger is so special because of the meaningful impact that it has on the players, volunteers, and coaches,” Falvey said. “It seems like it is something that everyone involved can look forward to.” 

   The kids that volunteer are not always baseball players and are from many different high schools, making this event more fun and less stressful for everyone involved. 

   “I really enjoy this event because it allows kids that are intellectually handicapped, that would not be able to participate on a regular team, to play baseball. Whatever disability they have, their OT and PTs are seeing a big difference as they work muscles in a different way, and that is beyond rewarding because that is what it is all about,” McAvinn said.

   This event allows people from different backgrounds who have certain disabilities to come together and have a good time resulting in everyone coming together and making friends and making memories feel like family even more special and memorable.

   “The community that comes out to help are able to make special bonds and it is so awesome to be a part of that,” senior anc Challenger volunteer Brian Delduchetto said.

   Challenger Division encourages the use of “buddies” for the Challenger players. The buddies assist the Challenger players on the field but whenever possible, encourage the players to bat and make plays themselves. However, the buddy is always ready to help when needed.

   A Buddy’s job is simply to be a friend, engage the child in conversation, and help the children improve their skills.                   

   “Being a buddy does have its challenges such as getting the kids to listen,” Delduchetto said. “Some have disabilities that put their minds in a different space making it harder to get them to pay attention.”

   The Challenger players wear the same uniforms and safety equipment as other Little League players, ensuring that these kids get equal opportunities to participate in a typical baseball game.  For both the players and the volunteers, this experience leads to many positive outcomes.

   “While helping the players with catching, throwing, and hitting is fun, I would say the best part of volunteering is being able to put a smile on someone’s face,” Falvey said.

   They work through any issues and redirection, they run the bases with their player, and they laugh and have fun together. This division of Weston little league ensures that no score be kept during the games and that everyone gets to bat.

   “It is such a great community and they are such great kids,” Delduchetto said. “In fact, I am still in touch with a lot of them.”

   The Baseball Buddies program also allows the parents to cheer for their kids from the stands. For the culminating jamboree event, the organization hosts 500 players and buddies from surrounding towns. For the jamboree, extra buddy volunteers are always needed as more players join for the games, food and festivities.

   “The buddies have been so committed, and most of the student volunteers even come back from college and say that this event is the best thing Weston baseball does,” McAvinn said.

   This is an event that everyone looks forward to every weekend in the spring, and they are always looking for more volunteers. If interested please contact the league director Ann McAvinn at amddxyz@comcast.net for more information.