Challenger League bring superstars

By Nikki Blankenship -

It was a special night as fans attending the New Boston vs. East girls basketball game on Thursday night watched a special guest appearance made by the superstars from the New Boston Challenger League Basketball Team.

Coach Mike Bell explained that Challenger League basketball offers an opportunity for those with disabilities to play and be like other kids.

“These kids with disabilities are just like other kids,” Bell explained before adding that these players just do things a little differently.

He explained that Challenger League also offers baseball and bowling teams throughout the year. These activities are beneficial to both children with disabilities and their parents. The kids get to socialize and participate in team sports with their friends and peers while the parents also get to socialize and meet parents who have shared experiences.

Bell is also a part of the Southern Ohio Autism Project, of which most of the players are part of. This year, the Autism Project sponsored the league.

“It just allows these kids to create the world the way they want,” said Bell.

New Boston Village Administrator Steve Hamilton explained that he brought Challenger League basketball to the area in 2013. It started with two teams of six players per team. It has now grown to four teams with eight players on each.

“It’s just a blessing to me to be able to watch these kids play,” Hamilton stated. “The thing that saddens me is that we lost a couple since we started.”

The death of a couple players in recent years makes it even more important for Hamilton to see the players smiling and having fun because some may not have many opportunities.

“When they are on the court, they forget everything that is difficult going on their lives,” Bell stated.

No matter what, they get out there and play hard with heart and hustle.

“This (Challenger League) is just a thing that has touched me so much,” Hamilton commented.

Bell added that at the onset of the basketball program, they did not keep score, but the players wanted to know how many points they made and were excited to win. They enjoy making the scoreboard light up, so they now play to win.

Player Tyler King explained that he also plays baseball and bowling.

“It’s just fun,” he said.

King added that he plays because he can make lots of friends and because he enjoys making baskets.

Another fierce machine on the court, Isiah Delotell explained that he enjoys “just being able to play with my friends.”

He has played for four years and also plays baseball and bowling. Despite being in a wheelchair, Delotell has found that he is limited in making three pointers, which is his favorite part of the game. Delotell even made a big three pointer Thursday night.

There are several examples of great athletes on the team that battle through both developmental disabilities to go on to play their very best.

Bell explained that this would not be possible without the support of the community and the League’s many volunteers.

“Without everyone coming together as one, we couldn’t do this,” he commented.

The community, however, stays strong in support, realizing like Bell that, “It’s all about the kids.”

Hamilton says he approached New Boston and East about bringing the team to play before the varsity game, and both teams and schools were excited to have them.

Challenger League players were overjoyed as they walked into a packed gym.

Hamilton explained that the kids were walking in saying, “Wow! Look at all the people here.”

He added that often these kids only have their parents show up to watch the games. Having a real audience like that of a varsity game is important to these players.

“That touches those children’s hearts,” Hamilton said.

They show just how much heart they have on the court, where both Bell and Hamilton says they play just as hard as any other kid out there playing varsity sports.

The Challenger League plays at 2 and 3 p.m. every Sunday at New Boston. The games are open to the community.

“Anyone who watches these kids play will be blessed,” Bell concluded.

By Nikki Blankenship

Reach Nikki Blankenship at 740-353-3101 ext. 1930 or on Twitter @nikkib45653.

Reach Nikki Blankenship at 740-353-3101 ext. 1930 or on Twitter @nikkib45653.