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Long Island Challengers Step Up To The Plate

Baseball is America’s pastime and should be enjoyed by everyone, including children with special needs.

That has been the thrust of Long Island Challenger Baseball since it was established in 1989 -- to give physically and mentally challenged children from across the island the opportunity to play baseball in an environment structed to their abilities.

And those abilities will be on display at the Long Island Challenger Baseball Jamboree at John J. Burns Park on Merrick Road in Massapequa, Sunday Oct. 13. The special event will bring together challenger teams from through the island and outside of the state.

“I am so pleased that the Town of Oyster Bay will host the 3rd Annual Long Island Challenger Baseball Jamboree,” said Supervisor John Venditto. “Challenger Baseball is a terrific program that enables children with special needs to enjoy all of the fun that comes with playing baseball.”

Little leagues and athletic associations throughout Long Island that annually participate in the Jamboree include Plainview, East Meadow, Massapequa, Lindenhurst, Roslyn, Sachem and Merillon.

The league enables boys and girls with physical and mental challenges, ages 4-18, or up to age 22 if still enrolled in high school, to enjoy the game of baseball along with the millions of other children who participate in this sport worldwide. Today, more than 30,000 children participate in upwards of 900 Challenger Divisions worldwide. Teams are set up according to abilities, rather than age, and can include as many as 15-20 players. Challenger games can be played as tee ball games, coach pitch, player pitch, or a combination of the three.

According to Al Friese, commissioner of the Massapequa Coast Little League’s Challenger Division, teams across Long Island and one from New Jersey are expected to participate in the Jamboree. There will also be games, inflatable rides and food for everyone in attendance. Registration begins at noon and opening ceremonies commence at 12:45 p.m. At 3 p.m., there will be Magic by John Lepre, to amaze and entertain all who attend.

Friese said that “Buddies” are utilized for the benefit of Challenger players.

“The buddies assist the Challenger players on the field, but whenever possible, encourage the players to bat and make the play themselves,” Friese said. “However, the buddy is always nearby to help when needed. Parents and teenagers are frequently asked to be ‘buddies’ and find the experience to be uniquely-rewarding.”

After completing a Little League volunteer application and passing a required national background check, teenagers may become buddies, while parents may become involved in practices, and be eligible as coaches, managers, umpires, local league board members and other volunteer positions within the league.

Venditto indicated that the Town’s long history of supporting Challenger Baseball was a strong factor in being selected to host the 2013 Long Island Challenger Baseball Jamboree.

“There’s no question of our commitment to youngsters with special needs,” Venditto said. “We’re proud to host the Jamboree, but more importantly, we are proud of the youngsters who will participate. Their ability to overcome obstacles in the pursuit of their dreams is an inspiration to us all.”

The supervisor also said the field at Burns park was specifically designed accommodate special needs players.

“The Town of Oyster Bay created their first dedicated field at John J. Burns Park to meet the special needs of the players with features such as synthetic turf, which offers a stable, uniform and shock-absorbing playing surface. Since then, we have added two additional fields suitable for the Challenger Division,” he said. “The turf has the bases and pitcher’s mound marked on the surface and not raised. This enables safer and easier mobility for walkers and wheelchairs. In addition, the field has wider gate openings to accommodate wheelchairs, cement pads to facilitate access onto the field and nearby restroom access.”

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