Mark Muench Is Little League's 2010 Challenger Award Winner
Just like many of the children in Little League Baseball and Softball’s Challenger Division, Mark Muench’s perseverance gets him through to the next day. It is probably appropriate the Little League program and Mr. Muench found each other, although the union almost never happened.
The Syracuse, N.Y. native, who now makes his home, with his wife of 32 years, Mary, in Fairport, N.Y., has been the Director of the Challenger program in the local league, the Fairport Perinton Little League, since 2003. For his many years of volunteer work with the program, Mr. Muench is the recipient of Little League’s 2010 Challenger Award.
Started in 1989, the Challenger Division services more than 30,000 children worldwide, ages five to 18. The Little League Challenger Award was established in 1998 and annually acknowledges the efforts of an individual who exemplifies the Little League ideal of providing all youngsters an opportunity to play baseball regardless of their ability.
Little League’s Challenger Division was established to give mentally and physically challenged boys and girls the opportunity to enjoy the full benefit of participation in a Little League program structured to their abilities. There are more than 1,900 teams and almost 30,000 players in this division of the Little League organization.
“Back in the early 90s, I was walking back through the ball park after one of our son’s games,” Mr. Muench said when talking about how he found out about the Challenger program. “As we walked, I noticed a game being played by special needs children on one of the diamonds. I made an immediate turn and went over to see what this was. I was immediately hooked and signed up our son, Andrew, for the program the next day. I didn’t have any idea a program such as that existed.”
After the chance introduction, Mr. Muench continued to attend games for all three of his triplet sons, Brian and Christopher, who were working their way through the various divisions of Little League, and Andrew, who plays in the Challenger Division.
When the league approached him in 2003 about directing the Challenger Division, the manufacturer’s representative for a paper and plastics packaging company was not sure he was the right person for the job.
“I was a golfer,” Mr. Muench said. “I wasn’t sure I was qualified for the position. I had been attending my son’s games right along, but I wasn’t sure about taking over the leadership of the Challenger Division. But, with the help of many people in the league, I was able to get comfortable in the position and we just enjoyed our best season ever this summer. The people in the Fairport Perinton Little League are phenomenal. We couldn’t have moved the program forward without their help, and they all deserve equal amounts of credit.”
Not only has Mr. Muench helped the Challenger program, which is more than 20 years old and was started by Brendan O’Riordan, grow, he has played a role in programs being developed in two neighboring communities. He has also been instrumental in securing donations for such things as making the dugouts wheelchair accessible, upgrading the uniforms and hats, securing an infield mix that allows for easy movement of wheel chairs and gates that allow for easy access to the field for wheel chairs.
“The enthusiasm Mark exhibits week after week allows our Challenger players to experience the joy of playing baseball no matter what their challenge is,” Chuck Dipiazza, President of the Fairport Perinton Little League, said. “His spirited and dedicated commitment has made our league grow year after year. Even as he continues his battle, he makes time for every game, receiving the loudest cheer.”
Since November, Mr. Muench has been fighting a personal battle, recovering from surgery to remove a brain tumor and the ensuing treatments. But, through it all, he has been able to maintain his duties and be in attendance at Challenger games.
“The kids in the program look forward to each Saturday and being able to get out and play,” Mr. Muench said. “The excitement on their faces makes it worth any work that it takes to be able to offer the program.”
Mr. Muench has also been an instrumental part of an annual Challenger World Series held each June, which was founded by Tony Wells in 1993. The World Series is played at Frontier Stadium, the home of the International League’s Rochester Red Wings. Challenger teams from six area communities, Fairport, Greece, Webster, Finger Lakes, Penfield and Pittsford, participate along with the Red Wing players.
Mr. Muench was also recently recognized by the Rochester (N.Y.) Press-Radio Club with the Christine Wagner Welch Inspiration Award. In addition, he has also volunteered his time working for numerous local organizations and causes such as the St. John Fisher Alumni Association, Strong Memorial Hospital and a Christmas Fund established by his business that distributes funds during the holidays to local charities.
“I am overwhelmed to be named the recipient of this award from Little League,” Mr. Muench said. “I’m not sure I deserve it, but I will accept it on behalf of everyone at Fairport Perinton Little League and all the people in the Challenger program in the state of New York.”
“Mr. Muench has embraced the Challenger Division and worked diligently to improve the program throughout the district,” Stephen D. Keener, President and Chief Executive Officer of Little League Baseball and Softball, said. “His belief in the program and support of the children, through his personal challenges, have been an example we all are proud of. We are happy to be able to recognize Mr. Muench for the sacrifices he has made on behalf of the Challenger program.”
Little League Baseball and Softball is the world’s largest organized youth sports program, with nearly 2.6 million players and 1 million adult volunteers in every U.S. state and scores of other countries.
Past Recipients of the Little League Challenger Award
- 1998-Ed Beardsley, Edgewood LL, Bristol, Conn.
- 1999-Jim Green, Jacksonville (Fla.), District 11
- 2000-Jake Hardison, Virginia Beach (Va.), District 8
- 2001-Eddie Garretson, Springfield (Va.), District 9
- 2002-Nick Harris, Peachtree City (Ga.) LL
- 2003-Bonnie McClellan, Holly Hills LL, Canton, Ohio
- 2004-Pablo R. Burgos, Admiral Daniel P. Gallery LL, San Juan, P.R.
- 2005-Jennifer Burns, New Mexico District 5, Edgewood, N.M.
- 2006-Raleen Hockenberry, Oregon District 7, Scotts Mills, Ore.
- 2007-Dr. Darrell Burnett, Laguna Niguel LL, California District 55
- 2008-Bill Fields, Tucson (Ariz.) Challenger LL
- 2009-Marilyn Wittstock, Clinton Valley (Mich.) LL, Michigan District 6