Challenger League boosts special young athletes
More than 60 athletes with special needs meet in Hudson on Sunday nights in June and July to take part in the Hudson Boosters Challenger Baseball League.
This program began in 2001. Since then, it has been opened up to athletes from all over the area, and it has been enthusiastically received. Athletes from nearly every community in St. Croix County take part in the weekly ballgames.
The season started on June 1 with the Hudson Boosters Organization sponsoring a clinic for the athletes in the Challenger League. Volunteers that day included members of the Hudson High School baseball players, Hudson Booster volunteer coaches, and Hudson Boosters traveling (U14) girls softball players. These volunteers worked on the fundamentals of hitting, fielding and throwing, as well as participating in a game with the Challenger League players. The games are played at the ballfields at the North Hudson elementary school.
There is no age limit, with athletes as young as five years old taking part. In their weekly games, the younger and older athletes play in separate games.
Susan Erickson, one of the program coordinators, said the games give people with special needs the chance to compete and experience being part of a team. A soft baseball is used, and the athletes can hit off a tee or they can choose to hit against a pitcher. Each athlete gets three opportunities to bat during a game and they can’t strikeout. They also get to run the bases and play in the field. When a ball is hit, volunteers throw balls to the other fielders, so everyone is involved in the action on every play.
“They’re all participating all the time. The games go by very quickly,” Erickson said. “They absolutely love it. It’s a connecting force.”
Erickson said there is a large number of parents and volunteers who help at the games every week to make sure all the athletes get a good experience.
“I think the volunteers get more enjoyment out of it than the kids do,” Erickson said.
Athletes from the local area who compete in the Booster program include Tyler Taubman, Brock Haverland, Brian Maas, Nick Kelly and Devin Norden of New Richmond; Jamie Rushton, Mack Hosley and Phoebe Dunleap of Somerset, and Isaiah Kasay and Gavin Pabich of Roberts.
Anyone interested in having an athlete with special needs be part of the program can contact Mark Mitchell of the Hudson Boosters at www.hudsonboosters.org and click the registration tab at the top of the home page. A link at the bottom of the registration page will direct you to the baseball/softball directions.