The Little League Challenger Division® provides thousands of intellectually and physically disabled children with the opportunity to play Little League® in a fun, social environment. Over the last decade, one of the Challenger Division’s primary champions has been Dr. Darrell Burnett, whose tenure as a member of the Little League Board of Directors is coming to a close in November 2016.
As he prepares to depart the Board, Dr. Burnett, also a dedicated Little League Volunteer at his local league in California, had a chance to look back on what has been accomplished and what else remains to be done.
A clinical psychologist and sports psychologist who specializes in youth sports, Dr. Burnett has worked with special needs children for the past 25 years. In 2007, he was recognized by Little League with the annual Little League Challenger Award for his efforts in Rancho Niguel Little League and throughout California Districts 55 and 68. That same year was invited to join the Board of Directors as an at-large member.
Dr. Burnett’s main efforts while associated with Little League have focused on the growth and improvement of the Challenger Division.
“For special needs children, Challenger is a big part of their social life,” said Dr. Burnett. “They see each other, and they keep playing.”
One of Dr. Burnett’s greatest contributions to the Challenger Division was working with fellow volunteers to help making the program even more inclusive, expanding the age limit past the previous limit of 18 years old, and helping to develop the Senior Challenger Division.
In addition, Dr. Burnett has written numerous articles for Little League’s online publications, as well as speaking at various public events. For the past 11 years, Dr. Burnett, a native Californian, has also played a large role in organizing Challenger Days at Angels Stadium, home of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
“The kids, they keep going after 18; they need this,” said Dr. Burnett. “Kids with Down’s Syndrome, autistic kids, and other life-long afflictions need the continued socialization, because they’re always going to be mentally under 18 because of their disabilities. Getting the buddy system in with these kids is really good. You get some high school or middle school kid who’s helping out, and it changes his perspective.”
Dr. Burnett said one of his favorite parts of volunteering with Little League has been his opportunity to provide color commentary for the annual Challenger Game at Little League Volunteer Stadium, a role he reprised once again at the 2016 Little League Baseball® World Series in Williamsport.
“This is the brass ring if you will … the World Series,” said Dr. Burnett. “But, there’s millions of kids playing youth sports. It’s fun and it’s a recreational league. I think the Challenger Game serves as a reminder of that. We don’t keep score, all the kids play.”
While his time as an official member of Little League is coming to an end, Dr. Burnett says he will continue to remain involved with the Challenger Division as much as possible. Even considering how far the program has come during his time on the Board, he sees even more room for growth in the future.