ANTIGONISH, N.S. - Another season of Challenger Baseball in Antigonish is about to take the field and swing for the fences of fun.
As described on the Antigonish Baseball Association website, Challenger Baseball is, “an adaptive program that provides an opportunity for children and youth, with cognitive and/or physical special needs, to enjoy the full benefits of participating in organized baseball at a level structured to their abilities.
“The program is aimed at helping children develop physical and social skills, build self-esteem, make new friends, meet other children and families in the community and become part of a team,” the passage reads.
The message also talks about ‘buddies’ who play a huge role in the program.
“Buddies are assigned to each player to help provide a safe and enjoyable experience and to assist players with all aspects of the game; catching, throwing, batting, fielding and getting around the bases.”
Melinda Babin will be returning to the program as a buddy for a second season.
“I can’t wait to get back,” she said, speaking to the Casket just prior to an information session on the program for new and returning buddies, May 29, at the People’s Place Library.
“Last year I saw they were looking for buddies and thought, I’ll try it,” Babin, who has volunteered with Special Olympics and Big Brothers Big Sisters in the past, said. “I thought it was something I would like and I loved it.”
Asked about her favourite part of being involved, she was quick to note, “watching the kids have fun.”
“I have so much fun going there and just watching them have fun,” she said. “And you can see, over the course of the summer, the [players] come out of their shell. The girl I was with, she didn’t speak to anybody at first, she was really quiet, but by the end of the summer, you could see she was having a ball; a lot of fun with all the other kids … just playing together.”
Jessica Delorey is coming on-board as a buddy for her first season, but is very familiar with the benefits of Challenger Baseball as she has seen what it has done for her brother Lauchlin.
“It has had huge benefits for Lauchlin,” she said. “It has helped him with his socialization; he has made tons of friends. He has quite the personality and when he gets around the Challenger ballfield he is just as confident as he can be.
“He had the same buddy for a number of years now, but this buddy is actually retiring from Challenger Baseball; so it will be great for Lauchlin to meet someone new and make those same connections with someone else.”
And Jessica is looking forward to making that type of connection with the player she’ll be matched-up with.
“Absolutely … I was there every week anyway, watching Lauchlin, and thought, it would be more fun if I could play,” she said.
Asked about what stands out for her as she watched the play over the last few years, the first word she used was “inclusiveness.”
“The accessibility and adaptiveness; it’s a game that is brought to each player’s level, everyone participates in the same game, at their own pace and however they can … it’s great.”
Conducting the information session was Randy Crouse who is not only the local and provincial Challenger co-ordinator but also, for the first time this season, the national co-ordinator.
“It starts mid-June and goes until mid-August, so 11 or 12 weeks,” he said of the local program’s duration.
“We have a few special events this year too. We’re in Halifax in August, [Toronto] Blue Jay alumni come down. Roberto Alomar has been there in the past, Jesse Barfield, Rance Mulliniks, Lloyd Moseby … players might not recognize the names but the parents do.”
“And we have our Friendship Jamboree where we invite the nine Nova Scotia programs plus programs from P.E.I. and New Brunswick, just to come down and have a fun day of Challenger Baseball. It’s in Stellarton again this year which is good; it’s kind of central to all our programs, plus close to the ferry to P.E.I. and not too far from New Brunswick,” he said of the day which will take place Aug. 11.
Crouse referencing the Blue Jays reflects the organization’s huge support for Challenger Baseball and youth baseball in the country, overall. The fields adjacent to Dr. J.H. Gillis Regional High School will be the beneficiary of a Jays Care Foundation Field of Dreams grant of $150,000 which will benefit not only Challenger Baseball, but also youth baseball and softball played at the location. The announcement of the grant award was made April 17, just prior to a Blue Jays’ telecast.