When Jennifer Angerame saw her son, Patch, take the field during a Challenger Baseball game last spring, she knew she’d found the perfect mix of ‘just right’ sports for him. Challenger games help make America’s pastime accessible to all kids regardless of their physical or intellectual challenges, teaming them up with typical buddies to encourage fun, inclusion and good old-fashioned Little League baseball. Patch, who has cerebral palsy caused when he suffered a stroke before he was born, is a very active, sports-loving 5th grader.
“Patch is a kid that wants to play ball–all day, every day. I tried last year to start more of a Sandlot league, just any and all kids show up once a week on a given field and just play ball. No coaches, no umps, just kids playing ball, like the movie. At the end of the season I read on GOOD Morning Wilton that there was a [Ridgefield] Challenger game being played at our YMCA field. So I got Patch in the car and told him we were going to a game and we were going to talk to the coach and ask him how we can get a team. And I’ll be damned if he didn’t walk up to the Ridgefield coach, and say, ‘Excuse me coach, how do I get a team?’ and the coach said, ‘Do you want to play with us today?’ Next thing I knew he was on the field with a buddy! The rest, as they say, is history!”
To help Wilton Little League form a Challenger Baseball Team of its own for Wilton, Angerame teamed up with League administrator Nancy Ward, who had wanted to start an adaptive baseball team in town for a while. The two women have known one another for a long time, and have spent many spring seasons watching their high school-aged sons plays baseball.
This fall they’re getting kids onto the field for a sort of organizational effort–finding players and recruiting buddy volunteers, with a goal to be able to open with a full schedule next spring, and play teams from nearby towns, most of which already have Challenger teams in place. Angerame’s older son, Michael, a WHS senior, and Ward’s son Parker, a WHS junior, both play for the high school baseball team, and are stepping up to manage the Challenger team.
Having a Challenger division for Wilton Little League is another way make sure all kids can be included in a part of Wilton life that is so visible. Wilton Youth Soccer has a similar effort in place with its Top Soccer program, and the Wilton YMCA offers a Basketball Outreach Program–both of which use the player-buddy pairing model.
Anyone in 8th grade and older can volunteer to be a buddy. They will assist Challenger athletes in the areas of batting, base running and defense, but only as needed. Buddies are often peer athletes who play Little League Baseball or Softball or at the high school level, but they don’t even need to know the rules of baseball to help the athletes play. Ward says it’s an ideal volunteer opportunity for students, knowing that both Challenger athletes and buddies benefit from the experience.
“I think that any time you can help to create an experience for any kid that is positive, you should do that. What better sound is there than that of kids having fun. Additionally, creating opportunities for the buddies to have new relationships with other kids in town should be tons of fun,” she says.
Her son, Parker, agrees: “What is great about Challengers is that it gives kids who might not have the opportunity to play sports a chance to play sports.”
The games are scheduled for Sept. 15, Sept. 29, Oct. 13, Oct. 20 and Oct. 27. They’ll run from 4-5 p.m. at the Wilton YMCA baseball fields. Little League has a registration link for buddies and a registration link for players. Anyone with questions can reach out via email.
Ward says the Little League Board of Directors has embraced the idea and hopes that Wilton baseball fans will too by coming out to cheer the team in this fall pre-season as well as next spring.
“We can always use fans. Everything this fall will be amongst each other so it may be more about practicing, but feel free to contact us about when our next game is because people of all ages can cheer,” she says.
And what is the team name that people will be cheering when they do come to support the Wilton Challenger players?
“I named the team True Warriors,” Angerame says, “because thats what these kids are.”