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Challenger Division to provide opportunity for kids with special needs

12/02/2019 6:00 AM |

A video of an Iowa wrestler pinning his opponent went viral last week as media outlets like ESPN shared the heartwarming moment. The student has cerebral palsy and his opponent patiently allowed him to go through moves before giving in to the pin as the crowd cheered wildly.

It was an act of sportsmanship that allowed a young man who had been practicing all year the chance to experience an unforgettable moment.

In the age of social media, those types of moments can often be easily shared to a large audience. Jeremy Savio, president of Riverhead Little League, said he has seen many of those moments on video and it got him thinking about finding a way to grow more opportunities for kids with disabilities or special needs.

He started to do some research and discovered Little League Baseball and Softball offers a Challenger Division for individuals with physical and intellectual challenges. The adaptive baseball program was founded in 1989.

“It just seemed perfect that it was a division designed for special needs kids and to give them that opportunity to go out and play every day and not just a spectator on the side,” Savio said.

Savio said Riverhead Little League is now working to begin a Challenger Division for 2020. While it will likely start off small in its first year, he said he’s hopeful it can continue to grow. And to create more opportunities, boys and girls from neighboring districts will be eligible to join. Savio said Little League allows for a residency waiver.

“I’m not really sure what we’re going to expect for this first season as far as numbers, but the way I think about it is, if we can be successful even with a handful of kids, it can grow,” he said.

Savio said there aren’t many Challenger Divisions on Long Island. He said he will reach out to presidents of nearby districts to help spread the word.

Games would be played similarly to a T-ball or Single-A level with coaches in the field to assist players where needed. The adaptive style would allow kids of different ages or skill level to play together.

Ideally the division would have enough kids to field two teams, which would be around 14-20 players total. Savio said they’ll work with a smaller group if that’s how it starts and they could possibly integrate some other kids into the teams to have enough players for games.

“The first season is always going to be the hardest,” he said. “It’s going to be a learning curve for everybody. But I think the biggest thing is to get them out there and put on a uniform and try to teach them the game.”

Registration for the spring season begins this month and will run through February. Boys and girls between ages 5 and 12 are eligible. The season will run from April to June and the registration fee is $55.

Savio said he’s already heard from coaches and parents who are eager to assist in the Challenger Division.

For more information, email [email protected] or visit the Riverhead Little League webpage.

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