It is said that giving is the greatest gift of all, and for Joni Fichter, no other statement is truer. For her generosity and dedication to making sure all children in Houston, Texas, have a meaningful Little League experience, Little League® Baseball and Softball has named Mrs. Fichter the recipient of the 2014 Little League Challenger Division® Award.
President and owner of a staffing firm and mother of two, Mrs. Fichter has always had a passion for helping others, especially those with special needs. She was first introduced to Little League Challenger Division when a friend showed her a news story. After watching the tear jerking video and sharing it with her family, and knowing Little League was at the heart of the community, she knew West U was the perfect place to start a Challenger Division.
“I’ve seen what our community could do, if you give us a project we got it done,” said Mrs. Fichter. "Everyone stepped up.”
After getting the go ahead from the League President in 2004, Mrs. Fichter started establishing the league’s Challenger Division. On the first day of signups, West U’s goal for the Challenger Division was to have two teams of nine – they had 48 players sign up that first year, 30 more than expected. Each year since then, that number of players has grown. In 2014, the league had 150 players on eight different teams with more than 300 buddies helping out.
When choosing buddies, Mrs. Fichter saw a great benefit in having middle school students help out.
“Watching the students interact with special needs kids, they treat them like friends, interact like normal, just to see how they can be inclusive rather than staring at their disabilities,” said Mrs. Fichter.
With the help of Mrs. Fichter, the West U Challenger Division players have had the opportunity to participate in once-in-a-lifetime opportunities throughout the years. In 2005, West U was invited to play on the White House lawn, in 2008, they participated in the Little League Baseball® World Series Challenger Exhibition Game in South Williamsport, and West U Challenger players have also had the opportunity to play at the Texas State tournament games in Tyler, Texas. Showing the true Little League spirit of volunteering, Mrs. Fichter has helped multiple other leagues start and grow their Challenger Divisions.
“Every single game is special, and it doesn’t matter where it is played or who is playing,” said Mrs. Fichter. “That big, bright smile on their face. Just seeing that smile and knowing that they have accomplished something that they never thought they could.”
The Challenger Division was started in 1989 with the purpose of giving children with developmental and physical challenges the opportunity to participate in Little League. The Challenger Award was established in 1998, to acknowledging an individual who goes above and beyond in support of the Little League Challenger division.
“Mrs. Fichter’s dedication and selfless acts toward her community and West University’s Little League are a true inspiration to us all,” said Stephen D. Keener, Little League President and CEO. “With her continued efforts, West University Little League and other Little Leagues have been able to evolve under her direction. It is a pleasure and an honor to be able to present her with the 2014 Challenger Award.”
Mrs. Fichter will be recognized at a breakfast and during on-field ceremony at the 2014 Little League Baseball World Series in South Williamsport, Pa. The 68th World Series will be played Aug. 14-24. The championship game is scheduled for Sunday, August 24 at 3 p.m.
If you know of a deserving Little League volunteer, the 2015 Little League Challenger Division Award application will be available in early 2015 at LittleLeague.org.