Little League Challenger Division Teams Play at Historic Yankee Stadium
The Major League Baseball All-Star Game marked its return to New York City in July, and the Little League Challenger Division was a part of the festivities surrounding the 79th celebration of the Mid-Summer Classic and Yankee Stadium’s final season.
On July 10, in the outfield at Yankee Stadium a Little League field was erected, and players from the New Jersey District 8 Challenger League played a game against the New York District 22 Challenger League.
“To play at Yankee Stadium was the most amazing thing for our kids and our league,” Linda Wilkins, New York District 22 Challenger Division Coordinator, said. “Our players were totally thrilled, and I believe this will be a positive experience for the whole Challenger program.”
The players participating in the one-inning game range in age from 8-to-18 and will be assisted by various local volunteers who served as "buddies" to aid the players where needed.
“Major League Baseball is pleased to work with the New York Yankees in hosting a Little League Challenger Division Game at Yankee Stadium during this historic All – Star Summer,” Thomas C. Brasuell, Vice President of Community Affairs for Major League Baseball, said. “This once in a lifetime opportunity allowed these Little Leaguers with special needs a chance to enjoy the full benefits of Little League participation in an environment structured to their abilities.”
“Playing at Yankee Stadium was a dream come true,” Marge Franco, the Assistant District Administrator for New Jersey District 8 and the district’s Challenger Division director, said. “This was one of the best opportunities we'll ever have to expose people to the opportunities provided by the Challenger program.
“My goal is to make people aware of what special needs children are capable of,” Mrs. Franco said. “The biggest thing these children and volunteers have been able teach is everyone looks different, but everyone has the same goal - playing ball.”
New York District 22's Challenger Division has been affiliated with Little League for 10 years, and has 53 players involved in the program. There are 54 children participating in the New Jersey District 8 Challenger League, which has been affiliated for 12 years.
The New York Yankees chartered buses to transport the New York District 22 players, buddies and parents to the game, while Chandelier Catering, through its “Danny Fund,” supplied the transportation for the player, buddies and parents from New Jersey District 8. The “Danny Fund” was created as a memoriam to former New Jersey District 8 Challenger coach Danny Ruggierio, who passed away. For this game, there were 14 players on each roster, with the remainder of the players in the two leagues making the trip to watch.
“The older kids have been with us a long time and are the ones who'll play,” Mrs. Wilkins, who had an 18-year-old son playing in the game, said. “Astor Little League has been very accepting of the Challenger players. This year is our 10-year anniversary, which makes this opportunity the biggest gift for the players and volunteers.”
The Challenger Division, which was established in 1989 as a separate division of Little League Baseball and Softball, enables boys and girls with physical and mental disabilities, ages 5-18 or the completion of high school, to enjoy the game of baseball along with the millions of other children who participate in this sport worldwide.
“Having Challenger teams play at Yankee Stadium during the All-Star festivities is fitting acknowledgement of the remarkable efforts put forth by these players and the volunteers that support them,” Stephen D. Keener, President and Chief Executive Officer of Little League Baseball and Softball, said. “For these disabled children and their families to have such a memorable experience is in many ways a tribute to their fortitude and will to overcome obstacles.”
There are nearly 1,800 teams and more than 26,000 players in Little League's Challenger Division.
Chartered Little Leagues can host their own Challenger team or teams. A district-wide program also is a possibility. In this structure, networking among leagues is greatly improved as players and teams throughout a district come together for games.
For more information on establishing a Little League Challenger Division, log on to: www.LittleLeague.org; or contact Little League International at 570-326-1921. Additional information on the Major League Baseball All-Star Game, and its related events, can be found by logging on to: www.mlb.com.