St. Louis Challenger Baseball started in 1994 with the main focus being to make friends. Founder Buck Smith had an urge to give back. He hatched the idea after reading a story about a program in Connecticut that was an offshoot of Little League, tailored to meet the needs of players with developmental disabilities. Using the program as a guide, he threw out the rule book, opening the league to anyone with a developmental disability from age 5 to 90. Each player gets to bat every inning, each team gets an adult pitcher and if needed some can hit off a tee. Everybody runs the bases, some with the help of a volunteer buddy, and all under the supervision of a team coach. (Buddies are kids and young adults between the ages of 10 and 25 who don’t have a disability). There are no outs, there is no score, everyone hits, everyone runs, everyone wins.
When Buck first introduced Challenger Baseball he had put a small ad in the newspaper and had about 15 players show up and the chaos began. A local softball team volunteered as buddies and helped organize the game, as up until that point it was just running around without direction as how to get everything going. As word spread, families in nearby counties wanted to participate, and today, at least 66 teams and over 800 players participate in Challenger Baseball in the Bi-State area. Leagues have formed now outside of the original St. Louis group, who play every spring at Tilles Park. Leagues in Madison County Illinois, St. Genevieve County, Pike County, Sikeston, Farmington, Ranken Jordan Rehabilitation Hospital, and Franklin County have all now expanded from the one league.
Challenger Baseball provides something to our community that was lacking before. The players flourish in social as well as physical ways. An introverted child can bloom on the field when he hits a ball and a wave of cheers lifts his spirits and makes him feel special. The friends that these players make are lifelong as many of our older players have been playing for 10+ years. The couple hours a week of playing baseball has helped so many players with physical therapy, anger issues, behavoral issues, and anti-social behavior. They can be whoever they want to be on that field. There’s nothing holding them back. They were a homerun hitting, fastest base running baseball player and they won. We all win.
Challenger Baseball depends on the generosity of friends and sponsors to help continue to grow and accommodate every single player who wants to play. They are a grass-roots organization, and have no affiliation with any corporations, foundations, or non-profits. They are a 501(C)(3) organization. The donations they receive go to uniforms that are provided to each player which include a team jersey, pants, socks and a team hat, equipment like batting helmets, many baseballs, bats, gloves, to help with transportation for some players, to help with the All-Star game at Berra Hill, the Awards Picnic, trophies, to help with playing at SLU High School, to play at the River City Rascals Field as well as having a night out their players.
For more information on Challenger Baseball, please visit http://www.challengerbaseball.org