Little League Volunteer Helps Challenger Division Players Live a Dream, Despite Personal Hardship
Nearly 90 disabled children from Queens, Nassau, and Suffolk counties, come to the East Meadow Little League complex every Sunday during the season for two hours of fun and baseball.
Little League and Mr. Cook are the sources of that fun, which brings together children with a variety of physical and mental challenges. What makes Mr. Cook’s efforts outstanding is his own illness – multiple sclerosis, a non-fatal disease that impacts the central nervous system.
In the 10 years since receiving the sobering news, this 49-year-old father of three said there have been days when he was unable to count to three, or remember the names of his children, yet he continues to do what has to be done for the children of EMLL.
“This is my life, and I love it,” Mr. Cook said. “I didn’t get involved with the Challenger program because of my disability. When I saw a presentation on the Challenger Division by guys from our district (New York 32), I wanted to get started.”
In the first year, Mr. Cook said only two children joined, yet he remained resolute in the notion that children with disabilities would not be limited because of not having a place to play. To date, the East Meadow Little League Challenger Division offers three levels of competition for ages 5 to 21, with plans to expand to a fourth team this year. The teams are put together based on age, ability and disability.
“In the beginning it was like pulling teeth, because the parents didn’t believe their children could play baseball,” Mr. Cook said. “We had to show them that their children could.”
The volunteers that help the Challenger Division participants on the field during games are often adults, or current Little League players. In East Meadow, the league’s Major Division teams go one step further as each week another team takes its turn being “buddies” to the Challenger players.
“Lee has dedicated his life to this,” Janet Mangano, former president of East Meadow Little League, said. “The kids who get involved with the Challenger program never forget it, and everyone in the community is exposed to it because Lee is sincerely a true and good person.”
This Challenger Division program is cost-free to the parents due in large part to Mr. Cook’s involvement in the Semantics, a local non-profit men’s club. The Semantics club and other local donations annually pool enough funding to afford the teams to have uniforms, trophies and pizza parties.
“The best part is the parents of these special children can sit in the stands and watch there kids play like any other Little League parents,” Mrs. Mangano said.
Mr. Cook has been a member of the East Meadow Little League board of directors since becoming a Little League volunteer in 1987. He appreciates the support the board has lent the Challenger teams, including making time on the field for the weekly games, and allowing for the league’s annual Nassau County Challenger event.
“I will do this as long as I can,” Mr. Cook said. “I’m not the type of person that asks for help, but I know this program will always continue because these parents are wonderful. They all know the one and only goal is for the kids to have the best time possible.”
Mr. Cook, who is unable to work due to his illness, has been an East
Meadow resident for 25 years. He, and his wife of 22 years, Sandi are
parents to: Dara (23), Cary (21) and Spencer (17).