Challenger baseball is the division of Little League for players with intellectual or physical disabilities. We play games twice per week and welcome players of all ages who have different abilities of all types, both physical and intellectual, or who may simply need a little more time or attention than typical players.
Our Junior Division serves players ages 5-17. Our Senior Division is open to players ages 15 - adult (no age limit). We offer a 10-week Spring program, Fall Ball, a tournament team and a senior travel team.
For more information please contact Libby Felten at HorshamChallengers@gmail.com
We welcome players of all ages who have different abilities of all types, both physical and intellectual, and who may simply need a little more time or attention than typical players. A general description of Challenger baseball appears at http://www.littleleague.org/Assets/forms_pubs/divisions/ChallengerBrochure.pdf.
Challenger also needs volunteers to help with activities, uniform distribution, fund raising, and coaching – everyone is welcome to help. This will be especially true this year, since I want to involve more parents in operation of the Challenger division.
With our recent growth, we also can use more on the field buddies. I have attached and pasted in this message an appeal for youth volunteers, but please feel free to circulate it to persons who you think may be interested, or to youth or other groups whose members need service hours.
As I have said many times, I believe our recent seasons have been quite special because of the number of youth buddies we had helping our players, both from Horsham Little League and from other Little Leagues in Montgomery and Bucks County. Students contemplating a career in special education or working with persons with disabilities may find Challenger baseball a good way to gain experience. Two of our Buddies even held a bake sale to benefit Challenger, and Kevin Barron (and other youth volunteers) run an annual baseball tournament to raise funds to build a dedicated Challenger Miracle League field, and continues to solicit support for that project. You can find information on his project at http://kpbarron96.wixsite.com/miraclefield/about.
For those who have not seen a Challenger game, videos of prior Challenger exhibition games at the Little League World Series are online at http://videos.littleleague.org/video/2016/08/31/2016+Challenger+Exhibition-c2MnRtNTE6 and https://youtu.be/dGAinxi14-s . (We run our games slightly differently, but this will give you an idea of what to expect.) http://horshamlittleleague.com/custom_page?pageid=1170
Finally, each year I like to include examples of persons with disabilities who have not been limited by them, and of persons who support athletes with disabilities. This year I have decided to feature the Phillies’ own Zach Eflin, and the story of his family and, especially, his sister. His description of his sister’s arm strength reminds me of many of our players, whose throws come in so hard that I must catch them in the web, rather than in the palm of my glove.
Baseball: An escape for Zach Eflin, his father
By Tom Housenick
As many baseball memories as Zach Eflin has of his dad, Larry — he has countless — the moments that are closest to his heart are those of his father on the field with someone else.
Zach, a recent call-up by the Phillies to fill a spot in their starting rotation, speaks proudly about how his father helped create a Challenger Little League in the family's hometown of Oviedo, Fla. The tremendous devotion and time commitment meant Zach's sister, Candace, who has special needs, had a place to show off her unbelievable arm.
"That was huge," Zach said. "He has taken the time to care for my sister, whatever she needs. That's a big memory for me because she means so much to me."
Larry said Candace, 24, is globally developmentally delayed after what is believed to be a lack of oxygen during her birth.
According to KidsGrowth.com, being globally developmentally delayed is characterized by lower intellectual functioning and accompanied by limitations in communication and self care, among other things.
"She understands everything," Larry said. "She's a bright girl. You just can't give her too many commands in a row."
You can give her a baseball though.
"She's got a cannon of an arm," Larry added. "Zach's friends, when they first saw her throw, said she's got the best arm in the family."
Baseball has been a huge outlet for the entire Eflin family. They have needed it.
Two decades ago, Ashley, the second of Zach's three older sisters, battled leukemia. After receiving a bone marrow transplant from Candace, she was cancer-free before dying of pneumocystis pneumonia.
Ashley's passing brought obvious emotional trauma throughout the Eflin household.
"It was like someone rolled a hand grenade under the table, blowing everyone in different directions," Larry recalled.
Larry and his wife, Catherine, divorced.
Despite being overwhelmed with grief, Larry recognized the one place he had to be, wanted to be.
"I realized that I couldn't change that that happened," he said. "So, I had to change everything else. I started focusing all of my attention on my kids."
For a time, Larry worked two jobs to put food on the table. He has spent the last 23 years working at the University of Central Florida as a waste water operator.
Larry is tending to his children's needs when he is not working.
When Zach was 4 years old, he and Candace, 6, played T-ball together in Oviedo. As Zach worked his way through Little League, Candace was a 12 year old playing with 7 and 8 year old boys.
It was a mismatch … just not the way you would think.
"It got to the point where I didn't feel comfortable, that Candace was going to hurt somebody because of how hard she was throwing the ball, and some 7 and 8yearold boys can't catch."
That stirred thoughts in Larry's mind about his daughter's future in a game she clearly enjoyed. There was a Challenger Baseball league in existence, but it didn't serve the needs and desires of those participating, he thought.
There were no rules, no uniforms and it was played at 5 o'clock on Saturday afternoons.
Larry made it so instruction was part of the process and, in conjunction with Oviedo Little League, got uniforms for everyone. No score was kept, but rules were enforced and parents were not allowed on the field during the games.
Larry teamed with Jill Woodard, who did not have a special needs child in the program, to have siblings and buddies from area high schools aid in instructing the players.
It went over well.
"I don't know who got more out of it," Larry said. "The players or Zach and his friends."
The Challenger Baseball League blossomed during Larry's 11 seasons of involvement and the participants grew to love the game.
"It was huge for Candace to play sports and get outdoors," Zach said. "It turned into having 15 kids the first year to close to 100."
As Candace got the chance each week to show off her strong right arm, Zach became a pitching prospect. It didn't come, however, without bumps in the road.
Larry was an athlete in high school and attended Temple for a year back in the 1970s. He believed sports provided a wonderful outlet for him and his children.
It became more, thanks to life's curveballs.
"It was kind of our escape from reality," Larry said. "Zach thrived on having that release from his life. It kept his mind busy."
Though Larry did everything he could for his only son, he knew Zach was being shortchanged even with three strong, supportive grandparents in his life.
"There are some things dads teach their sons and some things moms teach their sons," Larry said. "Zach missed out on that female influence in his life."
Zach blossomed as an early teen traveling 20 to 30 miles to play in Babe Ruth tournaments, then garnered attention from college recruiters and pro scouts. It was thanks to Jered Goodwin, who coached one of the country's top travel teams as well as the Hagerty High School team.
"He went from “Zach my son” to “Zach the pitcher people are coming to look at,"
In Zach's sophomore year at Hagerty High, he told his father he was going to quit baseball. Larry responded simply by telling Zach that it would be his responsibility to tell Goodwin.
After a week of putting it off, Zach went to Goodwin's office and said that he wasn't quitting.
"From that point, baseball was not Dad's passion," Larry said. "It was his passion. It was a clear breaking point in him deciding what he wanted to do with his life."
On June 4, 2012, there were family member, friends, coaches and advisers in the Eflin home waiting for news about the major league draft. Zach, at 6 foot 6, 215pounds, was projected to be chosen anywhere between the 15th and 30th picks.
The first 30 picks came and went, and Eflin still had no idea where he would be later that summer.
"It is amazing how slow the process is when you are hoping your name gets called," Larry recalled.
After the Minnesota Twins took fellow pitcher Jose Berrios with the first pick in the Compensation A round in between the first and second rounds, Eflin got the call from the Padres.
Eflin spent his first three professional seasons in the San Diego minor leagues before being traded twice in two days in December 2014, eventually landing in the Phillies organization.
Larry saw his son pitch several times last season with Double A Reading, this spring training in Clearwater and during the Phillies Futures Game in late March in Reading.
He traveled to Toronto last Tuesday to watch his son make his major league debut against the Blue Jays and is at Citizens Bank Park today to see Zach pitch against the Diamondbacks.
Regardless of the outcome of his Father's Day start or any other he makes in the future, Zach is thrilled to be on a baseball field with his dad close by.
"He's done a lot more than he realizes," Zach said. "I'm thankful he's been my father and best friend."
Finally, I also note a Major League baseball all-star who stepped up to support the Challenger program in the city where he plays.
If anyone has any contacts with professional athletes or entertainers who may be interested in supporting our Challenger program, please let me know so that we can plan how to approach them, whether for support for Kevin Barron’s Miracle Field project, or for a special event for the 2017 Challenger season.
CHALLENGER FALL BALL 2016!
I am pleased to announce that Horsham Challenger Little League will hold its first Fall ball season for players with disabilities, beginning this Thursday, September 15, and each Thursday evening thereafter, for as many weeks as the weather permits. Games will be held under the lights at 6:15 pm on Field 4 (the large field to your right as you enter the Deep Meadow complex).
The team will be coached by our Seniors coach Libby, but is open to players of all ages. Please contact her to let her know if you or your child plans to play, or if you can help as a Buddy; her email addresses are email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.
We encourage our Buddies from the summer league to join us for Fall ball. It is important that Buddies let us know if they can help with Fall ball, so that we know we will have coverage for all of the players. We particularly welcome youth Buddies, whom we have found relate very well to our players. Many of our Buddies use their Challenger service as a community service project for school or religious obligations.
Adult Buddies who did not volunteer in the Spring season must contact Stanley Jaskiewicz at email@example.com to provide clearances required by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
Players who did not play in the summer should contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org to arrange for a uniform shirt, and hat or visor. I will also need the registration form found online at http://horshamlittleleague.com/uploads/1453498879.docx.
Since this is the first time we have offered Challenger ball in the fall, there will not be an additional registration fee. However, any family that wishes to make a free will donation to help offset the cost of running the league (turning on the lights, field maintenance, etc. ) may do so. Checks should be payable to "Horsham Little League."
Please share this information with other players, and potential players or Buddies. It is only 6 days until the start of Challenger fall ball for 2016!
Do You Have What It Takes To Be A Buddy?
By volunteering as a Buddy, you can help baseball players who are just like your children, but who happen to have a disability, in the Horsham Little League Challenger Division. With almost 100 families playing in recent years, we need "Buddies" to help our players in the field, running the bases and batting. Challenger baseball not only develops physical skills, but also gives players the confidence and self esteem to succeed, both on and off the playing field.
We play at Deep Meadow Park during the months of April, May, and June, every Saturday morning at 9, and alternating Tuesday and Thursday afternoons. No special training is required, other than patience, a cheerful attitude and a willingness to help others - you qualify to be a Challenger buddy if you can give a high 5, a big smile, or any other form of encouragement. Service credit is available for consistent participation by students.
If you or your child would like to help, please contact Challenger Player Agent Libby Felten at email@example.com or 215-375-6564. Please feel free to circulate this message to your players and others who may be interested in volunteering – all volunteers must pass a Little League background check. Little League publishes "Buddy Guidelines" for Challenger Division here.
According to a Middle Eastern proverb, a man walked past a beggar and suffering persons, and asked, "Why, oh God, do you not do something for these people?" To which God replied, "I did do something, I made you."
Download Challenger Buddy Letter Here: Challenger Buddy Letter