Little League's Challenger Division makes lasting impact

By Jennifer Holloway - Staff Writer
Enfield - posted Fri., Jun. 17, 2011
Shelby jumps into Courtney's arms in the outfield. Courtney is a buddy for the Enfield Challenger Division and helps the kids learn the game. Photos by Jennifer Holloway.
Shelby jumps into Courtney's arms in the outfield. Courtney is a buddy for the Enfield Challenger Division and helps the kids learn the game. Photos by Jennifer Holloway.

Mollie Miranda likes to tell everyone she plays baseball. As she steps up to the plate in her yellow Enfield jersey and pink tights, pink batting helmet and pink bat, her older brother Charles waits near home plate. As soon as she hits the ball, he takes off running, with her, to first base. When she takes to the outfield later, Charles will help her field balls and throw.

Mollie plays for the Challenger Division of the Enfield Little League, which enables mentally- and physically-challenged children to learn the fundamentals of baseball through a program tailored to their needs.

“We make whatever accommodations are necessary for each player,” said head coach Andre Greco. “Our goal is to provide an environment where the players can improve their social skills and gross motor skills, but the most important factor is to have them get outside and have some fun.”

Greco’s son Nicholas has autism and has been playing since 2007. “For the first few years, we could not even get him on the field to play,” Greco said. “Now he is hitting without assistance, running the bases correctly and playing defense.”

But Nicholas is not the only one making progress.

Six-year-old Mollie is a quadruplet. Weighing only 3 pounds, 8 ounces at birth, she was the last to come home from the hospital. After many doctor’s visits, Mollie’s dad, Matt, said the doctors have finally given her a diagnosis of mild cerebral palsy. She also suffers from seizures and tremors.

“It was a long time before she could run,” Matt said. Today, though, Mollie’s doctors have said to cut back on her physical therapy. Playing sports is providing her with the exercise she needs.

Anita Strong’s daughter Shelby, 8, and son Hunter, 6, both play in the Challenger Division.

“They do things with the school, but it’s so fast-paced,” Strong said. “This makes them feel great - that they can do it, too.”

“There is nothing more heartwarming than seeing a smile on the face of a special needs child after they hit a baseball and are running to first base,” Greco said.

Eleven-year-old Brittany has one of the biggest smiles on the team. She watches for the last player on her team to bat, then takes off for the field with her pink glove. Wide-eyed and grinning, she loves to hit but loves even more to play first base. Her dad stands with her, stopping the balls so she can throw them back to the pitcher.

The game may look a little different with parents dotting the field and no record of runs or outs, but the impact is undeniable.

The Challenger Division is open to children ages 6 to 18 and plays in the spring and fall. Fall sign-ups will begin in mid-August.


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