The Challenger League: Every Kid Can Play Baseball

Maasapequa Coast League's division for kids with special needs a 20 year success story.

Some of them are autistic, some have cerebral palsy, some are in wheelchairs.  All of them are ballplayers.

The Massapequa Coast Little League's Challenger division is celebrating its 20th season of bringing the national pastime to special needs kids.

It's success isn't measured in wins and losses but in the joy and enthusiasm of its players.

"My daughter runs around saying 'I play baseball!  I play baseball!' " said Sheryl Enwright, whose 7 year-old daughter  Victoria suffered a stroke as a baby that caused her left arm to be paralyzed.

Victoria has been in the league for two years now  and her two older brothers, Joe, 14,  and Sean volunteer.

"I do it because it's a lot of fun and I like helping kids in need,"  Joe Enwright said. 

The Challenger league began in 1991 with 22 players and has grown to nearly 100 participants and more than 75 volunteers. Players come from all over Long Island.

While the league's growth is impressive, it's the individual players' growth that is inspiring.

Abee Weintraub's daughter, April has been playing in the league for three years.  She has  Rubenstein-Taybi Syndrome, a rare condition which has delayed her development.

"This is the first year where she can throw and hit by herself," her mother said.  But learning to play baseball is only part of the reason why April joined the league.

The young girl is unable to speak but has a special device that allows her to communicate.  She understands what people say to her and nods and waves when asked if she likes baseball.

"She doesn't have any kids around her neighborhood to play with, so this is just great because she get to socialize,"  Abee Weintraub  said.  

 The league is divided into three sections. The basic league  is  non competitive.  Players in the  American League understand the game and work on their skills.

The National League is the highest level,  where the children understand the concept of balls, strikes, innings, and outs and play games to win or lose.

"When the kids start coming up to you and asking you why they don't play like the Mets, then you know it's time for them to move up,"  said Mark Schnider who runs the National League. 

The children play on a special field that was donated by the town of Oyster Bay.

"It's a smooth flat surface, there's no bases and there's no bad hops on the ball," league commissioner  Al Friese said.  

Most volunteers are local students fulfilling service projects,  but some have been working with the same players for as long as five years. Several students have gone on to win scholarships, because of their experience.

But Barbara Realmuto, who is in charge of the volunteers, says the biggest benefit is that the kids and parents get to enjoy a quintessential American experience.

"It gives the parents a sense of normalcy," she said.

"A father can say I went to my child’s little league game on Sunday. It’s nice to have a typical answer when you have an atypical child.” 
















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