Earlier this year, Little League® Baseball and Softball announced a $4 million plan to help local Little League programs grow the game in their communities by providing financial assistance to these programs to ensure that all children have the opportunity to have a meaningful Little League experience.
The cornerstone of the initiative is the new Little League Grow the Game grant program. With different grants earmarked for general local league improvement and to help leagues expand or establish Little League Softball®, Little League Challenger Division®, and Little League Urban Initiative programs, Little League is allocating more than $1.8 million for 7,000 local Little League programs in more than 80 countries to use to grow the game.
In May, Little League Baseball and Softball awarded a grant in the amount of $18,500 to Lafayette Little League (LLL) in Louisiana to add a 3,200 square-foot paved driveway into their park to allow wheelchair access with the hopes that the new accessibility will help increase participation in its Challenger Division.
“The only way we could continue to grow our Challenger program in our area, and to make it more convenient for our current players, and others with disabilities is to make necessary improvements to allow disabled children better opportunities to play and watch games at our park,” said Shawn Finley, Lafayette Little League Board Member.
In 2013, Lafayette Little League’s Challenger Division expanded from two to four teams. In 2015, the Challenger Division exceeded 60 children.
Just over a month after receiving the grant, the Lafayette Little League had finished its important driveway project. It’s already been a success by adding convenience and increasing game attendance. The league believes the improved accessibility will add to participation numbers next season.
“The grant has been a big help with our Challenger players, and others with disabilities, in giving them wheelchair access,” said Mr. Finley. “Families can now drive up to the park, take the wheelchair out and not have issues navigating through a gravel drive. This will open our park up to Challenger players and others who are wheelchair bound. Our next step is to do more paving to the concession stand to give them the same experience as everyone else. All of our parents are raving about the work, and the Little League grant!”
The project and grant application had the full support of the league’s District Administrator, City President, Challenger Commissioner, and the league’s entire Board of Directors.
In its Grow the Game grant application, which is available here, L.J. “Joey” Durel, Jr. Lafayette’s City-Parish President stated, “Lafayette is known for its fun-loving and family-oriented culture. And the work of the volunteers at LLL epitomizes that reputation. The Challenger Division at LLL is especially important because it not only offers children with disabilities the opportunity to participate in a team sport, but it also teaches our fully-abled children tolerance and compassion.”
Little League's Challenger Division was established in 1989 as a separate division of Little League to enable boys and girls with physical and mental challenges, ages 4-18, or up to age 22 if still enrolled in high school, to enjoy the game of baseball along with the millions of other children who participate in this sport worldwide. Today, more than 30,000 children participate in more than 900 Challenger Divisions worldwide.