Challenger League centered around family

Donations to be held Saturday

By Kevin Colley -

The District 11 Challenger League before a tournament.

The District 11 Challenger League before a tournament.

Submitted Photo

As a whole, sports are bigger than each of the games that fall under the scope.

Need any proof of that? The District 11 Challenger Baseball League is more than willing to show any and all doubters the point that sports go far beyond each and every game that is played.

However, District 11 needs help.

Because there’s one special trip out there that makes the years of each participant in the league.

That is the 2017 Ohio Challenger Division State Tournament Jamboree, which will be held in Parma, Ohio on July 28. There, challenger leagues from all over the state — including District 11 — are planning to play baseball not only for the love of the game but for their big-hearted participants who simply want to have a good time.

For District 11 to do that, it needs to raise $15,000 in order to be able to afford the trip.

However, despite that high total, that goal is something that District 11 President Michele King and District 11 Vice President Mike Bell are determined to hit.

“As a parent, you always want to do everything that you possibly can in order to make sure that your child has the most fulfilling experience that he or she can,” King said. “We fundraise so that any child who wishes to go has that opportunity. We don’t want money to be a factor to the point where a child can’t go, so we have a couple of fundraisers. The community is always very supportive of our league, and we always find a way to raise the money. We take a good-sized group with us, and we always have a good time.”

As with Bell and King, all of the families involved in the league do all that they can in order to fundraise money for the Ohio Challenger Division State Tournament Jamboree, which is, per tradition, held on the last week of July every year.

“When we held the tournament in 2012, there were 4,800 people here,” Bell said. “We filled every hotel from Portsmouth to Huntington with families that came in. There were families that came as far as Toledo.”

However, there’s only so much that those families can donate, especially when one considers the fact that the vast majority of each of those families spend thousands of dollars a year, at least, on medical care for their child or children.

Most of that money, Bell says, goes toward hotel costs, which near $10,000 on its own by the time the trip is all said and done.

“It goes toward hotels,” Bell said. “As most people know, hotels aren’t cheap. On average, we spent about $130, $140 dollars a night, and we usually get around 40 to 45 hotel rooms for two nights. That’s almost $10,000 just in hotel rooms. Then, Michele and I assist with gas money. Glockner’s are really good about donating a couple of rental cars, and Star Adult Workshop donates the use of their vans, so we’re able to team a couple of families up in vans.”

That work, however, is something that both Bell and King enjoy — because it goes to a higher purpose.

“That’s what these kids talk about,” Bell said. “For a lot of these kids, their families go on vacation once a year. That’s the state tournaments. Raising a child with a disability isn’t cheap. For these families, this is their vacation.”

For each of those families, they may have a child with autism or down syndrome. In Bell’s case, the Vice President even has a youngster who is legally blind.

However, the league doesn’t create divisions to where kids feel like they are outcasts.

“The Challenger League is a nation where all disabilities are accepted,” Bell said. “Any child that has a disability, whether it be autism, down syndrome, etc., it doesn’t matter. All disabilities are accepted, and there’s no discrimination between each disability. Not only does it help the child, but it also helps the parent, because the parent has other parents to talk to that understands what he or she is going through.”

“The Challenger League offers kids the opportunity to be a part of a team that can play baseball, where they wouldn’t be able to otherwise,” King said. “Without it, they don’t have that chance to interact with other kids, form friendships, and be able to get outside and have fun.”

And that social interaction is huge for each individual in the Challenger League program because as parents and kids get to know each other, lifelong bonds and friendships — that eventually go well outside of the sport of baseball — are formed.

“It’s very touching to see these kids form friendships that they may not have done otherwise,” King said. “They invite each other to their birthday parties, come out to each other’s places and have play dates, and go swimming. It’s very heartwarming to see.”

Bell, as with most parents, has seen it firsthand.

My son (Aaron) is 22, with autism,” Bell said. “The Challenger League allows kids to play baseball, and just be kids. We have a lot of kids who may not be able to play regular baseball or softball because of various disabilities. However, the Challenger League allows for those kids to be able to participate in a sport that they love. Not only that, it allows the kids to be part of a team and enhance their social skills.”

Behind a group of strong-willed leaders and the growing participation that the league has seen, however, one thing’s for sure: the District 11 Challenger Baseball League, as a whole, isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

“Our goal, as it is every year, is to give every child the chance to come out and play baseball,” King said. “We want to give the kids a positive environment with a litany of fun-filled experiences.”

“We’re a big family,” Bell said. “We lean on each other for support. It goes way beyond the game of baseball.”

For individuals who wish to donate to the District 11 Challenger Baseball League in their quest to raise money for their trip to Parma, King and Bell, along with additional District 11 parents, will be raising money throughout the day on Saturday for the trip. Interested parties can visit the New Boston CVS at the intersection of U.S. 52 and State Route 139 or the New Boston Walmart to donate. All donations are welcome.

Donations will also be accepted at the following address. District 11 Challenger Baseball, P.O. Box 888, Portsmouth, OH 45662.

The District 11 Challenger League before a tournament. District 11 Challenger League before a tournament. Submitted Photo
Donations to be held Saturday

By Kevin Colley

Reach Kevin Colley at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930 OR on Twitter @ColleyKevin7

Reach Kevin Colley at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930 OR on Twitter @ColleyKevin7