Put me in, Coach: The PA Challenger Division
Put me in, Coach!
Whether it is hitting a ball into the outfield, sliding onto first base or throwing a perfect pitch, baseball is a sport that all kids should be able to enjoy. This was Mike Junkins’ line of logic when he created the Dillsburg Youth Challenger Division Team in 2006.
The Challenger Division is a baseball league created specifically for kids with special needs and disabilities. The main focus of the division is to teach kids ages 6 to 24 about baseball, to promote teamwork and—more importantly—to have a lot of fun.
Scores are not kept during Challenger Division games and rules can be changed on the fly to suit different disabilities and needs. Challenger teams also usually have one to two short practices per week.
The biggest challenge Junkins had when creating the team was getting the word out, but the news quickly spread and the Dillsburg team, which began with only eight kids during its first year, now has more than 40 kids. The program is offered for free to families and relies upon local support and the work of about 12 volunteers to keep things up and running.
Junkins said many of the kids on the team have Autism or Down Syndrome, while others have physical disabilities such as spina bifida.
Those that join the program find not just a team, but a “closely-knit family” Junkins describes. It’s a common sight to see older kids out on the field helping the younger kids during a game. Junkins says he’s found that many teenagers come back to help out with the program because they found it so helpful themselves and had such a great experience with the team.
What Junkins finds surprising is that there are not more local challenger teams. While there are teams in Camp Hill and Berks County, the Dillsburg team still has kids that travel from as far away as Loganville in southern York County.
Junkins says he’d like to see more Challenger teams in the area. “It doesn’t take a lot to start up a team either,” he says. Setting up a team requires minimal time and cost and doesn’t require an in-depth knowledge of baseball—most kids really don’t have any specific expectations.
A budget of about $400 is all that’s really needed to run the program and funding can often be acquired from local businesses.
In many ways, Junkins finds that he gets just as much out of the program as the kids do. He has become a part of a larger family, and has even been invited to graduations. Junkins enjoys being a part of such a great program and describes the experience as being “a lot of fun!”
Joe Barry is a Central Penn Parent intern who will graduate from York College this month.