Last updated: April 26. 2014 5:59PM - 963 Views
By Alexander Hider

Alex Hider|PDTCJ Shigley swings for the fences in Saturday's Challenger League Playoffs. Shigley, 16, is a student at the Verne Riffe School in Portsmouth.
Alex Hider|PDTCJ Shigley swings for the fences in Saturday's Challenger League Playoffs. Shigley, 16, is a student at the Verne Riffe School in Portsmouth.
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Alex Hider


PDT Sports Writer

Baseball is a game of numbers, and Saturday afternoon’s games at Milbrook Park in New Boston were unlike any other that has ever been played.

Every single player on each team came to the plate. Every single batter that came to plate got a hit. Every single runner that reach based scored.

And, after the offensive fireworks subsided, the final score was 0-0.

The Portsmouth Little League Challenger Division held its annual playoffs yesterday in conjunction with the Southern Ohio Autism Project. Designed to give children with disabilities a chance to play baseball, the Challenger League has been holding games in the Portsmouth area since 2006.

“It gives kids with special needs the opportunity to play baseball, when otherwise they wouldn’t get to on a typical team,” said Michelle King, assistant administrator of the Challenger League in Portsmouth. “This gets them out, gets them socializing, gets them exercise, and also gives them confidence.”

Sixty kids with limitations on six teams participated in yesterday’s games, with every one of them in uniform. Every player had the chance to hit, run the bases and play in the field.

“It’s not competitive, we don’t keep score,” said Natalie Shigley, assistant coach for the Hallmark Pharmacy team.

“We want our kids to be considered equal and have an opportunity to play and have fun.”

But it’s not just the players that get in on the fun.

“It’s not only fun for the children, but it’s also fun for us parents as well,” said Shigley, who is the mother of two players (CJ and Cheyenne). “We have a ball here playing with the kids.”

That might be an understatement. Dozens of parents were in the stands, cheering loudly for every player and singing “Take Me Out To The Ball Game.”

“We’re here to be a big family,” said Jodi Walker, president of the Autism Project. “When someone in your family has Autism, not every family member is going to be accepting, and understanding. That’s what we’re trying to do to, bridge it all.”

The Autism Project was also holding its annual “Walk For Autism” Saturday afternoon. The event, which included food vendors, a live band and arts and crafts, raises money to help bring special services to the community. These services include hiring special teachers and parent/teacher training.

“It’s all about creating opportunities to access the community just like any other child, so building opportunities is what we’re after,” said Leah Ann Joyce, co-founder of the Autism Project of Southern Ohio. “We do need to bring services to the area because so many more people are affected by it.”

The Challenger League is also raising funds to help send its players to the Challenger State Baseball Tournament in North Canton later this year. Watching them play, it’s easy to see that these kids don’t want to see their season end just yet.

“A lot of them have battles that they battle in life,” Shigley said. “Why should they have to battle on a ball field?”

If you wish to learn more about the Autism Project of Southern Ohio, visit their Facebook page. Alex Hider can be reached at 353-3101, ext 294, or on Twitter at @alexhider.

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