Location: Cheshire, Connecticut, United States

devilishly handsome, screamingly funny, overly modest

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Challenger Baseball

For over 30 years I have been involved in the coaching of children with special needs. I found to my considerable surprise that my patience level when doing this increased from my usual bare a tolerance to well above that of the average adult. I have created basketball and golf programs that I run through the auspices of the local Park and Rec office. These are low-impact programs that I started because of my belief that Special Olympics is philosophically much too competitive for the population being served, but that's a subject for another post. I spend far more time and effort with Challenger baseball.

For those of you unfamiliar with the concept, Challenger programs were formed through Little League with the strong support of Nolan Ryan (yes, THAT Nolan Ryan) about 20 years ago. It is designed for children with special needs, and unlike Special Olympics includes children with only physical problems as well as those with mental challenges. Age range is school age, elementary through high school.

The program emphasizes success. A batter cannot strike out, he or she keeps swinging until a ball is hit fair. If thrown out, a runner continues to stay on the base reached. No score is kept, and if asked I always answer that it's a tie game. The coach (me) pitches to his own team, so that adjustments can be made for each individual batter. This also allows for batting instruction during each at bat.

Cheshire has a well-developed program. We are the second oldest Challenger organization in the state, this being our 18th year. Since we had no Little League team in our town, we received our own charter, which we maintain still, which gives us an independent status which has proved to be useful. We have three teams of 15 players, two for younger children and an older (teen-age) team that I manage. It was my idea 15 years ago to separate the older players in order to teach a more advanced program and team spirit.

For this team,(the Cheshire Challenger Red Sox) I help identify and recruit players, set up the schedule (12 games,7 on the road), prepare a roster, pass out uniforms, make sure everyone is properly equiped, check that the field is in shape, arrange for home-game pizza, and keep in regular touch with parents about their child's progress. This is in addition to actually coaching the kids and managing the games, including doing the pitching. Oh, I forgot, there's a Board meeting once a month from October through June. In all it takes approimately 300 hours a year.

In case this sounds like complaining, it's actually more like bragging. I volunteer to teach these kids because I love it and seem (unbelievably) to have virtually unlimited patience to do it. Also I'm good at it. The children respond very positively and am always surprised at how much they improve each year. The parents are also surprised (sometimes shocked) at how their kids develop skills considerably beyond their expectations. I found these parents to be (unlike typical Little League parents) helpful and appreciative.

Another aspect of the program is the emphasis placed on team morale and esprit de corps. I teach the players to be demonstatively supportive of their teammates and NEVER to make negative remarks or boo the other team. At the end of the season, the Red Sox are a team that is proud of themselves and their accomplishments. For most of the players, this is their only experience with team play, and it's important to me that they come away with a positive attitude.

Sometimes, of course, I get a little carried away. Yesterday I pitched 2 games with a pulled muscle in my rehabilitating leg (my wife is NOT happy with me, and my physical therapist will be even less so). But I wouldn't trade the feeling I get from helping these kids for a month with Charlize Theron. (I don't know about TWO months, but then it hasn't been offered,yet).



Blogger Brett said...

Great post, but I do really want to hear more about your opinion of The Special Olympics. It's wonderful you have the patience and endurance for a program like this.

9:43 AM  
Anonymous hi there said...

I have witnessed a few of these games,,,and the Special Olympic events as well.
You throw a hell of a pitch,,,well,,at least you did then!! (198?)

11:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Having a child that participates in both Special Olympics and Challengers Baseball, I can say that Special Olympics is competitive and is not what I would call a "teaching" program whereas The Challengers program is. S.O. is a great program for kids who pretty much understand the game and it gives them a great opportunity to feel that they have accomplished something. Challengers is not comptetive and lets the kids play ball w/out the pressure of always "winning or loosing".
Challengers is open to children with any disablitiy, physical and/or mental. S.O. has restrictions on the children that are able to participate. Both are wonderful programs, but are very different in the purpose they serve.

9:14 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bill has shown to be a true professional and we are all in awe of his abilities. Heaven holds a special seat for our dear friend.

1:15 PM  
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