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 > Little League Online > Media > Little League News Archive > 2001 > Challenger Division On  Deck at the White House

Challenger Division On  Deck at the White House

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(Click here to see a gallery of photos 
from the Tee Ball on the South Lawn game)

WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. (July 11, 2001) - The third in a series of "Tee Ball on the South Lawn" games is scheduled for Sunday at 5 p.m., but this game has a twist.

As always, fun will be all that matters. This time, however, the game features two teams from the Little League Challenger Division for mentally and physically disabled children. The players will range in age from 5 through 12, and will come from the Virginia Beach and Springfield areas of Virginia.

The Springfield Little League Challenger Hawks, along with the District 8 Virginia Beach Little League Challengers, and their families, will watch as Marine One (the Presidential helicopter) lands on the South Lawn. They will welcome President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush home, then both teams will square off in a one-inning Tee Ball contest.

“We’re pleased that President Bush is opening the back yard of the White House to these Tee Ball games,” Little League President and Chief Executive Officer Stephen D. Keener said. “Bringing the Challenger Division to the South Lawn will provide the thrill of a lifetime for the children and their families.” 

The Challenger Division of Little League Baseball serves the needs of disabled children, providing the positive benefits of Little League that have been available for more than a half-century. The program began in 1989 following the formation of the Little League Challenger Division Task Force, headed by Sen. Robert Dole of Kansas. Other members of the task force included disabled persons, as well as those from the fields of medicine and risk management. Now, more than 22,000 disabled children in the U.S. and several other countries participate in the Little League Challenger Division.

Children ages 5 through 18 (or the completion of high school) may participate in the Challenger Division. The makeup of teams and scheduling are determined by the size and playing ability of the children. The philosophy of the Little League Challenger Division is to provide the framework so that every Little League program may offer a structured, athletic activity for all youth in the community. Playing equipment, uniforms, official shoulder patches, umpires and any special event activities provided for existing divisions are made available to the Little League Challenger participants as well. 

As Little League Baseball is chartered by the United States Congress as an educational program, Little League encourages its local leagues to provide the same organizational structure for the Challenger Division as is offered the other Little League divisions. The goal is to assimilate the Little League Challenger participants into the structure of the Little League program. Qualified adult leadership is essential, and must reflect positive and constructive direction, tempered with patience and understanding.

A wide range of abilities of Little League Challenger participants require variations in not only the rules but in the philosophy of the game. Some rules that apply to Little League Baseball have been adjusted to accommodate the Little League Challenger Division. Very often, Challenger Division games will resemble games of the Little League Tee Ball Division, although older players and those with more skills can play in "Challenger Coach Pitch" or "Challenger Player Pitch" divisions. Every player receives at least one turn at bat and all players participate defensively. Usually, no score is kept.

Another benefit of the Challenger Division is the effect it has on other players in the other divisions of the local Little League program. In the Challenger Division, players are accompanied by "buddies," (often players from these other divisions) who offer their assistance to the Challenger players when needed. This fellowship between the disabled and non-disabled on an athletic field is beneficial as it helps to develop socialization skills for both groups.

Counting the participants, "buddies," and adult volunteers, more than 60,000 people take part in the Little League Challenger Division each year. It is estimated that more than 150,000 children have played in the Little League Challenger Division since it was founded.

This will be the first baseball game played by disabled children on the South Lawn in the history of the White House. History was also made on May 6, 2001, at the White House as two Little League Tee Ball teams squared off in front of an audience that included President Bush and Mrs. Bush. In the second game on June 3, former President George Bush and his wife Barbara, as well as the President’s brother, Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida, attended. 

"What a wonderful place to play America's pastime," the President said in pre-game ceremonies for the first game in May. "Baseball is a fabulous sport."

George W. Bush is the first Little League graduate to be elected President. He played catcher during his Little League days in the 1950s at Central Little League of Midland, Texas.

The games are part of President Bush's very apparent love for baseball, and his wish to see it grow in popularity, particularly among children. He plans to invite Little League Tee Ball teams to the White House South Lawn periodically throughout the spring and summer months.

Several companies donated supplies or services to Little League Baseball so that all the equipment necessary (except gloves, which are those belonging to the players) is available, including fencing, bases, bats, baseballs, catcher's equipment, player benches and the batting tee. Little League also provides numbered shirts for each player and a baseball cap, both of which the players keep as souvenirs.

The companies donating the equipment to Little League are: Wilson Sporting Goods, Russell Athletic, New Era Cap, SportFence, Easton, Larson Design Group and TurnKey Construction.

The players, managers and coaches also receive a baseball bearing the Presidential Seal and signature of President Bush -- his personal gift for their participation.

Little League Baseball is the world's largest organized youth sports program, with approximately 2.9 million participants and more than a million adult volunteers in every U.S. state and 104 other countries. It is estimated that more than 30 million Americans have played Little League Baseball or Little League Softball in the program's 63-year existence.

The date and teams for the next game have not been decided.

For more information on the Challenger Division, please visit www.littleleague.org.