As visitors pour into Warner Robins for the Little League Southeastern Regions tournament, they will get some extra action this year.
The Challenger Division is bringing back its exhibition game after it was absent from the schedule last year.
The Little League Challenger Division was started for kids who have physical and intellectual challenges. More than 30,000 special needs kids are involved worldwide in over 900 leagues. The leagues are split up into junior and senior divisions. Kids are eligible to play as long as they are in school, meaning the oldest kids are 20 years old and the youngest are 5 years old.
They play a six-game schedule during April because some of their conditions can be affected by the heat. The games are two innings long and each player gets the chance to bat twice. There are no outs and each kid gets to score.
“It gives the kids a chance to be kids,” said Darrell Macy, a coach in the Challenger Division and a father of a Challenger player.
Macy joined the league as a team dad and then applied to be a coach the following season after “falling in love with the program,” he said.
In 2011, the Warner Robins American Little League held its first Challenger Division exhibition game during the annual baseball tournament. They played the game every year until last year when the schedule changed and they were forced to remove the game.
“We made a pledge that we need to try and find a way this year,” said Matt Weber, assistant coordinator for the Little League Southeastern Region.
The game will return to the schedule 11 a.m. July 30. The Warner Robins team will take on Viera Suntree Little League from Melbourne, Florida. The league is looking for volunteers to help with the game and the tournament.
“We are needing a wealth of volunteers about 20 to 30 per game throughout our 26 games,” Weber said. “They just need to apply and go through a background check. They can find that on our website or visit us at 439 Snellgrove Drive in Warner Robins.”
Find the volunteer form here: www.eteamz.com/llbsouth/news/index.cfm?cat=894070
The Challenger Division allows the young players to get out of their rooms and interact with other kids, Macy said.
Macy’s son has autism, and he says that autistic kids sometimes “kinda like to be left alone and not around big crowds,” but the Challenger Division has changed that.
“It gets him out of his shell a little bit,” Macy said. “This gave him the insight to be more active and make more friends. Once you get that started he looks forward to seeing his friends on baseball Saturdays.”
The game is different from a regular baseball game and it's not just in the rules — it is in how it feels, Macy said. Everybody cheers for everybody, and sometimes after a kid hits the ball the kid may run out and hug the pitcher before running to first, he said. The games also have an effect on those watching, he said.
“If you’re having a bad day, come and watch these kids. You can’t help but smile when you see all these kids out there who have these challenges in regular life just being kids,” Macy said. “You will see these kids out here having true fun.”