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 > Little League Online > Media > Little League News Archive > 2014 > January-April > Top Quarterback Draft Pick Blake Bortles Holds the Little League Challenger Division® Close to His Heart

Top Quarterback Draft Pick Blake Bortles Holds the Little League Challenger Division® Close to His Heart

Top Quarterback Draft Pick Blake Bortles Holds the Little League Challenger Division® Close to His Heart

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Legendary coach John Wooden once said, “The true test of a man's character is what he does when no one is watching.”

Blake Bortles of Oviedo, Fla., made major headlines when he was drafted as the top quarterback as the number three overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, but it is his heart that belongs to the Oviedo Little League’s Challenger Division.

Selected by the Jacksonville Jaguars, the quarterback from University of Central Florida (UCF) has a special connection to the 60 Challenger Division players in his hometown Little League®.

“Blake adores those kids,” said Jill Woodard, Oviedo Little League’s Challenger Division Coordinator for the past 11 years. “To our Challenger players, the most important thing about Blake is he’s one of their buddies.”

Since Bortles’ sophomore year at Oviedo High School he has been both a buddy and a “buddy” to the league’s developmentally and physically challenged players. For three years, Blake assisted players on the field during Challenger Division games played at the King Street Complex.

Since moving on to UCF and developing into a top NFL prospect, he has remained grounded through his experiences with the Challenger Division.

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Since he was in high school, University of Central Florida Quarterback Blake Bortles (left) has been a Challenger Division buddy in his home Little League® in Oviedo, Fla.. Bortles, soon to be a top selection in the 2014 National Football League draft, has been a “buddy” with Oviedo Little League Challenger player C.J. Williams for five years.

“I’ve known Blake for a while,” said Woodard. “During his last year at Oviedo High, he did his senior project on our Challenger League, and I was his mentor for the project. The focus of his project was the importance and relevance of providing an outlet for special needs kids.”

Oviedo Little League has offered the Challenger Division for 15 years with hundreds of children and families benefiting for the opportunity. One child in particular became great friends with Blake and the two remain close.

Mr. Bortles and C.J. Williams, now 17, met through the Challenger Division five years ago. C.J., who is diagnosed with autism, has a “strong connection with Blake,” said Woodard. He has attended many UCF football games with tickets provided by Mr. Bortles and the pair still spends time together.

A few weeks ago, despite the spotlight of draft day looming, Bortles visited this year’s Challenger Division players. With no media fanfare, he met with the players and their families, signed autographs, and posed for pictures.

“We knew he was coming, but it was a surprise to the kids,” said Woodard. “We had to plan the visit and wanted to make sure we handled it right, because Blake wanted it to be for kids. For Blake to remember these kids was huge for the parents, too. It’s wonderful to see someone gives a darn. He didn’t have to remember those families, but he did.”

Mr. Bortles has already told league officials that he plans to make the Oviedo Little League Challenger Division his charity of choice once he makes the transition to the NFL.

The Little League Challenger Division marks its 25th Anniversary in 2014. During the past 25 years many dedicated individuals and leagues have worked together and made a difference in the lives of more than 100,000 Challenger Division participants. For more information on the Challenger Division, visit LittleLeagueChallenger.org.

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Oviedo, Fla., native and future NFL quarterback Blake Bortles recently visited the 60 children and their families in Oviedo Little League’s Challenger Division®. Oviedo Little League has chartered the Challenger Division for 15 years and Bortles has been an Challenger Division buddy for five years.