Video: In Challenger League, best skills are confidence and fun

Jason Crotty

On a warm, sunny Saturday morning a game of baseball was being played at Thayer Field. Some players needed some help along the way, but no one needed help having fun.

On Saturday, June 14, in the final game of the Challenger Baseball League’s inaugural year, physically and mentally challenged kids ages 5-16 took turns playing the field and hitting the ball.

Joe Kennedy, involved with Lancaster Little League since 1993 and having retired in 2007, started calling parents and recruiting players and “buddies” to play alongside them this February. His 16-year-old son P.J., who has Down syndrome, is a league member.

“It’s fun because you get to help kids who have never played baseball before,” said 9-year-old Andrew Pasquale of Lancaster, who was P.J. Kennedy’s buddy.

The season culminated with Saturday’s game, which included an appearance by SpongeBob SquarePants singing “Sweet Caroline” and pitching to several batters; players, buddies and parents lapping down ice cream in a post-game celebration; and players being handed trophies.

“It’s all about having fun and there’s a lot of great smiles,” said Kennedy.

Twenty-one players signed up for the Little League-sanctioned Challenger squad, hailing from Central Massachusetts towns including Lancaster, Clinton, Bolton, Stow, Lunenburg, Maynard, Princeton, Worcester, Boylston, Groton and Leominster. The league played a game every Saturday morning for six weeks, starting May 10.

Besides players, there are roughly 20 “buddies” that participate each week, including students from Nashoba Regional High School and kids from the Lancaster Little League and neighboring town leagues. Kennedy said he meets at least one-on-one coverage between buddies and Challenger players. Players and buddies can come and go as they like, as the league doesn’t require commitments. The game does not follow traditional baseball rules, and players are encouraged during and after each at bat.