In the mid-1980s, a movement throughout the United States was evolving to provide equal opportunities for individuals with developmental and physical challenges. One of those opportunities was the chance to have a Little League experience.
As Little League expanded in the 1980s, some local programs were finding ways to incorporate the children with special needs in their communities. And, on June 13, 1989, the Little League Challenger Division® was officially launched at the Little League International Congress, as the organization was celebrating its 50th Anniversary.
Little League’s playing rules were modified to allow children the flexibility to play the game using their own set of skills. The Buddy System was also created to provide a person to assist each player on the team, both at the plate and in the field. For example, a buddy can help push a Challenger Division player’s wheelchair down the base path. And while the primary goal of the Buddy System was to help the players on the field, the program also has allowed individuals to develop friendships and a better understanding of the disabilities that their peers face.
“When the Little League Challenger Division was launched, it was one of the first dedicated opportunities for children with physical and developmental challenges to play organized sports,” said Stephen D. Keener, Little League President and CEO. “As we look forward to the next 25 years, the Little League Challenger Division will be able to provide countless individuals with need a healthy, safe outlet to enjoy the sports of baseball and softball.”
In 2014, the Little League Challenger Division is celebrating its 25th Anniversary as Little League celebrates its 75th Anniversary. In addition to the many exciting initiatives honoring Little League’s Diamond Anniversary, the Little League Challenger Division is commemorating its Silver Anniversary with recognizing its founding while looking toward the future.
In the past 25 years, the Challenger Division has become an essential aspect to scores of local leagues around the world, with more than 900 programs in 10 countries, everywhere from Venezuela to Kuwait. Challenger players get their own time to shine during the Little League International Tournament with Challenger Exhibition Games played during many tournaments, including the Little League Baseball® World Series and the Little League Softball® World Series. Today, there are more than 30,000 players in the Little League Challenger Division.
“You will never truly experience the joy of baseball and softball until you see a Little League Challenger Division game,” said Sam Ranck, Little League Challenger Division Director. “We are so excited about these new opportunities to continue to expand the Challenger Division and give more options to those with physical and developmental challenges the chance to have a meaningful Little League experience.”