As Little League expanded in the 1980s, some local programs were finding ways to incorporate the children with special needs in their communities. And, on June 13, 1989, the Little League Challenger Division® was officially launched at the Little League International Congress, as the organization was celebrating its 50th Anniversary.
Little League’s playing rules were modified to allow children the flexibility to play the game using their own set of skills. The Buddy System was also created to provide a person to assist each player on the team, both at the plate and in the field. For example, a buddy can help push a Challenger Division player’s wheelchair down the base path. And while the primary goal of the Buddy System was to help the players on the field, the program also has allowed individuals to develop friendships and a better understanding of the disabilities that their peers face.
“When the Little League Challenger Division was launched, it was one of the first dedicated opportunities for children with physical and developmental challenges to play organized sports,” said Stephen D. Keener, Little League President and CEO. “As we look forward to the next 25 years, the Little League Challenger Division will be able to provide countless individuals with need a healthy, safe outlet to enjoy the sports of baseball and softball.”
In 2014, the Little League Challenger Division is celebrating its 25th Anniversary as Little League celebrates its 75th Anniversary. In addition to the many exciting initiatives honoring Little League’s Diamond Anniversary, the Little League Challenger Division is commemorating its Silver Anniversary with recognizing its founding while looking toward the future.
· Little League Challenger Division Jamborees: During the first year of the Challenger Division, Ed Beardsley, a Little League volunteer at Edgewood Little League in Connecticut and member of the committee that created the Challenger Division, organized a Challenger Fun Day (now named the Ed Beardsley Challenger Fun Day to remember Beardsley’s commitment to the program). Bringing together children with developmental and physical challenges from communities throughout Connecticut for games and activities, the Challenger Fun Day served as a model for future Jamborees. Today, thousands of Challenger Division players get a chance come together at Jamborees, including at the Jake Hardison Memorial Challenger Jamboree, held every year in Norfolk, Va. This year’s 25th Annual Ed Beardsley Challenger Fun Day was held at the Little League Eastern Region Headquarters in Bristol, Conn., on June 14. In addition to the Ed Beardsley Challenger Fun Day, 25 Challenger Jamborees will be held throughout the United States and Canada in 2014.
· Senior League Challenger Division: In April, 2014, at the 26th Little League International Congress, the delegates enacted the creation of the Senior League Challenger Division. This will give the opportunity for leagues to create a program for adults over the age of 18 to continue to play in the Challenger Division. Boy and girls ages four to 18, or enrolled in school until 21, will be able to continue to play in the Little League Challenger Division, and, where available, those 15 to 18 years old will have the option to play in the division best suited for their needs.
· Expansion of Local Options for People with Physical and Developmental Challenges: Also at the 26th Little League International Congress, the delegates passed a new regulation that allows those eligible to play in the Little League Challenger Division, and don’t have a program within their home or school boundaries, to register for a league within their district or nearby district.
· Continued Support from Garth Brooks’ Teammates for Kids Foundation: Since 2001, the Garth Brooks Teammate for Kids Foundation (TFK) has provided considerable support for the Little League Challenger Division. This year, to honor the 75th Anniversary of Little League and the greater Williamsport, Pa., community, TFK granted Little League $25,000 to provide financial assistance to Challenger Division programs in Pennsylvania District 12 (Lycoming and Sullivan Counties) to attend the Jake Hardison Memorial Challenger Jamboree. This is in addition to a $150,000 grant from TFK to Little League to support Susquehanna Health System’s creation of a Little League Kids Zone in the Hospitality Inn at Williamsport Region Medical Center.
Learn more about the Little League Kids Zone.
In the past 25 years, the Challenger Division has become an essential aspect to scores of local leagues around the world, with more than 900 programs in 10 countries, everywhere from Venezuela to Kuwait. Challenger players get their own time to shine during the Little League International Tournament with Challenger Exhibition Games played during many tournaments, including the Little League Baseball® World Series and the Little League Softball® World Series. Today, there are more than 30,000 players in the Little League Challenger Division.
“You will never truly experience the joy of baseball and softball until you see a Little League Challenger Division game,” said Sam Ranck, Little League Challenger Division Director. “We are so excited about these new opportunities to continue to expand the Challenger Division and give more options to those with physical and developmental challenges the chance to have a meaningful Little League experience.”
About Little League®
Little League® Baseball and Softball is the world’s largest organized youth sports program, with 2.4 million players and one million adult volunteers in every U.S. state and more than 80 other countries. In 2014, Little League is celebrating its 75th Anniversary of developing major league people. For more information, visit LittleLeague.org, or follow the Little League on Facebook (facebook.com/LittleLeague) or Twitter (twitter.com/LittleLeague). Celebrate Little League’s 75th Anniversary online at LittleLeagueBigLegacy.com, official hashtag: #LittleLeague75.
(Information from Brian McClintock, Director of Media Relations Little League International)
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