National Challenger Seminar
The Eastern Regional Headquarters of Little League Baseball was the site of the first annual National Challenger Seminar, March 25-26, 2006.
Little League Challenger coordinators came from across the United States to participate, some as far away as California and Arizona. The Seminar was coordinated by Joe Sagaria, District Administrator of New York's district 18. Jim Ferguson, director of the Challenger division for Little League Baseball, was key to the discussion process.
There were former players in attendance who gave their perspective of how the Challenger program had enhanced their lives and given them the opportunity to grow in self-confidence and to experience the thrill of participation. Parents told their stories of what it was like to see their child participate in America's favorite sport. Honored guest Ann Beardsley and her son David attended to thank the volunteers for keeping the dream alive that her late husband, Ed Beardsley, began in 1989.
Then the group got down to business. How to develop effective "buddy" programs and where to find the buddies was discussed. How to organize the Challenger program within your community was discussed including the pros and cons of a district league versus a program run at the league level. The best ways to set up the age structure within the program were discussed: separate players by age/playing skill or form teams from the broad spectrum of ages and abilities. It was determined that there was no set of rules that was correct for every community - the various communities in attendance all had successful Challenger programs and were organized in a variety of ways. What was common was the need for constant review and the ability to change the program when the needs of the players and community change.
Another large discussion item was whether a program could be designed to accommodate players who "age out" of the Challenger program. Currently, players may remain in the Challenger program until they complete high school. Some former Challenger players come back to the leagues as coaches, umpires and other volunteers. Several of the communities represented at the seminar have created successful baseball and softball programs which serve as extensions of the Challenger experience for adults with disabilities.
It was universally agreed that Little League Baseball provides a total package for all children who want to participate in baseball or softball - whether the child has a known disability or not - and that the inclusion of the Challenger program into the local Little League program provides the best possible opportunities for growth, development, and socialization within the youth community.