For every small child who is a fan of baseball, being a member of a Little League team is a dream come true. For those who are not able to join in because of physical or learning disabilities, however, achieving this dream is a lot more difficult.
This is where the Lubbock Challenger Little League comes in, offering "baseball for the physically and mentally challenged children of the South Plains," explains League Coordinator, Jeff Gibson.
The Lubbock Challenger Little League began in 1991, started by volunteers of the American Business Club (AMBUC). But with only five members, it risked being disbanded. It was carried on by Gibson, however, along with several other AMBUC members.
It is an all-inclusive league for any child who is of school age, which usually means children aged from 5 to 18 but can include older. "Kids are kids and they want to play baseball," says Gibson.
The emphasis is not on winning or score-keeping but instead, the goal is to get all the participants to feel part of the team and the game. Board member Patty Vannoy explains that there are "no score, no outs" and Gibson elaborates saying, "every child can get a home run every time they hit a ball."
There is also a buddy system that allows volunteers, parents and siblings to help each of the players navigate the field and play to the best of their ability without worrying about their safety. "Some need a little help, some need a lot of help," explains Gibson, but that's exactly why the buddy system is there.
"We've had kids in a wheelchair tip over and we've just picked them up," ready to try again. Other than the fun and the confidence-building that comes from being in the league, there is also the very important chance it gives children to run around. "It's not just fun, it's therapy for these kids," says Gibson.
The field itself was specially designed for the league and includes a synthetic turf playing field and flat bases that, like all other markings, are painted on. This makes the field accessible for children with wheelchairs and walkers, even after rain.
Another advantage to the Challenger Little League is that they charge only $10 per child compared to around $200 for other Little Leagues. For families of children with disabilities, which usually have higher day to day costs, this is a lot more than some are able to pay.
Included in the small fee are uniforms and caps just like any other Little League. It also ensures that the league has any other equipment they need such as specially made balls, bats and helmets.
The sights on the field are truly inspiring. Parents cheer from the sidelines as their children are able to hit the ball and make a home run. The children are clearly delighted by not only the chance to play baseball but by the opportunity to interact with other children who also enjoy baseball.
Sharron Rice, grandmother to a player, explains that she sees how much fun her granddaughter is having. It does not matter "whether they really hit real good, or run real good, or throw real good, they're still out there playing and having a good time."
"In their minds' eye, they are playing baseball like their brothers, like their friends at school, like the kids next door" Vannoy explains, and being part of the national Little League association, these children are not isolated from other children who play baseball.
Most importantly, as Gibson says, "baseball ought to be for everyone," and the Lubbock Challenger Little League ensures that it is.
For more information, visit their website.