Challenger League a big hit
Children with mental and physical disabilities and their parents embrace new Little League division.
By ERIKA M. TORRES
Denny Curran gave his granddaughter, Jenelle, a pink baseball glove when she was 2 years old.
Jenelle, now 5, has never worn the glove.
Diagnosed with Lennox Gastuat Syndrome, a rare and severe form of epilepsy, Jenelle can't speak, can barely walk and is legally blind. Her parents believe the most difficult part is "seeing other children her age and seeing what she could be doing."
But on Sunday, the Currans participated in an everyday American tradition they never thought would be possible—Jenelle played baseball.
The Tustin Eastern Little League has just started its Challenger Division for children ages 5-18 with mental and physical disabilities.
For many of these children who have watched siblings participate on little league teams, this is the first time they get to play on a team themselves.
Coach Steve Polley said the 14-member team ranges in ages and capabilities but it doesn't hinder the experience of playing.
"We understand they have disabilities but we don't let that limit what we can do with them," he said. "We make adjustments to fit their abilities, not their disabilities."
The team has scheduled 10 games for their upcoming season where they will play against each other. The Challenger players will pair up with a "buddy" from the 11 and 12-year-old Little League team who will assist them with catching, throwing and hitting during the game.
The team is an outlet for the players rather than a competitive sport and there is no scorekeeping, Polley said.
Kathy Mara said her son, Blake, 12, who has high functioning autism, is beginning to socially blossom now that he's on the team.
"His self-esteem is just on top of the world," Mara said. "He doesn't have a lot of friends because of his disability so I think this is really neat for him to develop his social skills."
It's an overall consensus in the group that the parents are enjoying watching their children as much as the children are enjoying being a part of the team.
Kelly Curran, Jenelle's mother, said watching her daughter be the least capable on the team was rough at first but she has embraced the smiles that appear on her daughter's face, a sentiment that resonates with Jenelle's grandfather.
"If you watch those kids play this game, it's is a joy," Denny Curran said. "It's what youth sports is all about."
During Sunday's practice, Jenelle's buddy caught the ball in the outfield and helped her throw the ball while she sat in her wheelchair. There, lying in her lap, was the pink glove her grandfather gave her when she was 2 years old.
Here is a link to the story and some photos - Brett is in a couple of the photos wiht Jenelle and I in the background.