WHEELERSBURG — It was a hot day in the mid-90s, and there were very few clouds, or even spots of shade, in sight.
And at Gene Bennett Park, there were dozens of people littered, some within shoulder-to-shoulder length of each other, all around a Little League field.
But even in the conditions, which featured red-hot temperatures and little relief, the members of the District 11 Challenger Baseball League kept playing as if they weren’t phased by the conditions that greeted them on Saturday afternoon.
However, when one attends a District 11 Challenger League contest, it’s easy to see how — because the heart that each of the participants have is as big as one could ask for.
That’s exactly what the Stray Dawgs Motorcycle Club, among other bike clubs, continue to donate — because the passion that’s present in the District 11 Challenger Baseball League is contagious.
So much so, in fact, that one of the founding members of Stray Dawgs, Greg Yerian, made the trip all the way from London, Ohio — 25 miles southwest of Columbus — to join in on the fun with additional members of the club, most of whom are from Scioto County.
“It’s great,” Yerian said. “I love to see them smile, man. They’re happy. It makes our day and I know they love it, so it’s just awesome the whole way around. It’s a good thing.”
However, it’s only continuing a tradition of tight bondage that the members of the Scioto County community, along with the District 11 Challenger League, have formed, according to District 11 Challenger League President Michele King.
“It means a lot whenever the community comes together with us to celebrate our kids,” King said. “The kids really enjoy and look forward to the event every year. It’s exciting for them, and they really appreciate the bikers when they come into the Gene Bennett Park complex and head onto the field. They love seeing all the different motorcycles and being able to meet these riders. The riders are always very generous with the kids, and they let them sit on their bikes and get pictures. It’s a big event.”
The District 11 Challenger League, which was established in 2006, allows boys and girls facing physical and mental challenges the opportunity to enjoy the full benefits of Little League in an environment structured to their abilities. No outs or runs are counted, and everybody plays, fields, and scores in the contests that the Challenger League puts on.
In addition to those pluses, the most important aspect is the fact that there’s no jeering or taunting — only a welcoming atmosphere that encourages development and growth.
“It’s nice to see teachers, aunts, uncles, neighbors, come and watch, in addition to parents and grandparents,” King said. “They all have their own little cheering section.”
Because of this welcoming format that allows all with disabilities to come out to the ballfield and have a good time, the league has grown immensely since its formation in 2006. As of the present day, 138 players take part in the league across its two central locations, Wheelersburg and Chesapeake — a vast growth from the league’s first year, when the league had two teams.
And the best part about it? Those participants develop friendships and common bonds that last a lifetime — which is, after all, the main purpose of the league.
“It’s great to see how far the Challenger League has come,” King said. “It’s developed from a small group of children to 138 kids with leagues in two counties. It’s great that it’s broadened into two leagues, and two leagues that are serving a lot more kids that really benefit from our program as far as socialization. It’s great to see kids making lasting friendships that will continue on all throughout their lives. We have children now that have grown to the point where they are young adults, and they’ve maintained these friendships and go and do things outside of baseball with these friends. That’s the best gift of all.”
Those participants, however, may not have an opportunity to meet as many individuals without the clubs that continue to donate generously to the cause.
In addition to the businesses that sponsor the event, such as SOMC and Rent-2-Own, among many others, the Stray Dawgs, along with the Portsmouth Motorcycle Club, the American Legion Bikers, and 858 have all helped raise funds for the league in the past.
This year, the Stray Dawgs, who participated on their own due because of two additional motorcycle runs in the area — those being for Portsmouth Motorcycle Club’s anniversary run and a donation run for the Southern Ohio Autism Project — raised $280 for District 11 in an effort to help the league when it travels to Mason in late July for the Ohio Challenger League Tournaments that will be held from July 27 through July 29.
As part of the run, the Stray Dawgs, as all the bikers who participate do every year per tradition, pulled up from the right field entrance all the way to the infield, where they park their bikes so the kids who admire said motorcycles and their drivers can meet and greet the drivers, touch the bikes, and even take a ride around the infield with a driver of their choice.
“I like it,” Yerian said. “I like how we can pull up on the field and have the kids come out from the dugout to see the bikes. It feels good. It’s also wonderful to give those kids the rides that they get to enjoy. Where else are they going to get a little ride around a bike?”
And one thing was for certain — heat wasn’t going to slow down the show. After all, it’s the Major League of all the Major Leagues. The show must go on.
“That shows you that the ones who showed up, even with the heat the way that it is right now, really care,” Yerian said of the parents and volunteers. “They’re really here for the kids. It means something to them. There’s all kinds of other stuff going on, but the ones that showed up sacrificed that to be here and support these kids.”
“It was hot, but they were still enjoying it,” King said of the kids. “They weren’t going to let the heat stop them.”
Reach Kevin Colley at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930 OR on Twitter @KColleyPDT