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Inspiration feeds the fire, for Challenger league

SPRINGVILLE — Secretary of the Springville Baseball Board of Directors Kelly Baker explained how she got the idea for Springville’s new Challenger league. Her friend’s son, who Baker said loves baseball and who has supported his friends and siblings at games, for years, was diagnosed with spina bifida, at a young age. He had, until now, been unable to play organized baseball.

“It just kills me, to see him miss out,” Baker said. She added that she has been made aware about other leagues’ Challenger divisions, but was not sure if there would be enough of an interest, to begin this type of program, in Springville.

After a local mother, whose son has been diagnosed with autism, approached Baker about allowing her young boy to continue playing T-ball, even though he is 8 years old, Baker said she asked herself, “Why are we delaying this anymore?”

She presented her idea, about starting a Challenger program, to Springville Youth Inc., the Springville Baseball board of directors and Elaine Krezmien, director of the Springville League for the Handicapped.

“Everyone was very supportive of the idea,” Baker said. Krezmien sent letters about the program to local special education departments and surrounding school districts, to see who would be interested.

“We have so many kids in this community who just miss out,” Baker said. “It just kills me that they can’t enjoy this game that you love; the game that my son Ian loves and all the other kids, in our community. It’s just such a good team sport and such a family atmosphere. So many families are just missing out. It’s just not right.”

The local league unveiled this program, with a stated goal of “enabling children with physical and mental challenges to participate in the game, along with the millions of others who play the sport, worldwide.”

More than 30,000 children take part in more than 900 Challenger divisions, worldwide.

Rather than setting up teams by age, the new league will be arranged by ability, giving each player an equal opportunity.

“It seems like, when the adults just stay out of it and we just let kids be kids, it works out tremendously,” said Cindy Galley, a social worker at the League for the Handicapped. “Kids with disabilities learn so much, from typical children. Giving them this opportunity to do same thing that typical kids do is amazing. It’s something they can look forward to; it’s something that can be the highlight of their day.”

According to Baker, Challenger divisions encourage the use of “buddies,” who would be used, whenever the players need assistance. Challenger games can be played as T-ball games, coach pitch, player pitch or a combination of all three. Each player will get the chance to bat and play defense, in the field.

“With the existence of the league, it would be great to have an extracurricular activity, for kids to do,” Baker said. “It’s also an opportunity for other kids in high school and middle school to serve and hang out with these kids. It’s an excellent opportunity; it’s team building and [it] gives families an opportunity to watch their kids do something that’s pure fun.”

SYI is looking for children in kindergarten – fifth grade, who have “physical or cognitive challenges that prevents them from playing traditional T-ball or baseball,” to participate in this program

The league is open to residents of Springville and surrounding districts, such as Pioneer, Holland, North Collins, West Valley, Gowanda and Cattaraugus-Little Valley, although all children will be included.

Practices and games will be held on Saturdays at 4 p.m., from May 4 – June 29, at the Concord Community Park.

Opening day celebrations, as well as the first game, will be held on May 18. The cost of the registration includes a jersey, hat, pants and socks.

“SYI and the town of Concord just want to be a safe haven,” Baker said. “We want to have this place, where all these kids and their families are super welcome. A place where there’s this unconditional acceptance. It’s time that this community uses all the resources that we have available, to give every kid an equal experience.”

To register, visit Choose “registration,” on the left side of the page. For more information, contact Baker at or 560-7526.

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