THE ISSUE

Challenger of Lancaster County, a baseball league for children and adults with special needs, marked its 30th anniversary with a round of games at Clipper Magazine Stadium on June 23. The event featured play from six Little League teams, two senior teams, and a matchup between Challenger “all-stars” and Solanco Little Leaguers.

For much of our lives we’re spectators, watching other people do things, whether it’s sports or theater or something else.

For those with physical disabilities and other handicaps, spectating can make them feel like outsiders. They may yearn to be more than passive onlookers for a change.

This is why we strongly support the Challenger of Lancaster County baseball program and congratulate everyone involved in it — participants, organizers, volunteers and fans — for celebrating three decades.

“We offer the kids a chance to play baseball, to play sports without limitations,” Michael Laverty, a board member who organized the Clipper Magazine Stadium games, told LNP’s Colin Evans.

And who wouldn’t want to play baseball, if given the opportunity? It isn’t called America’s pastime for nothing.

In the Challenger program, individuals with special needs get to enjoy the game firsthand — to experience the feel of swinging a bat and running (or walking or rolling) around the bases, and the exhilaration of crossing home plate. And importantly, to be part of a team, to be among those being cheered for, not just those doing the cheering.

A branch of Little League International, Challenger of Lancaster County includes 130 players. There are more than 950 Challenger programs in 10 countries worldwide, according to littleleague.org. More than 30,000 athletes participate in Little League International’s Challenger Division every year.

As Evans reported, the local teams play eight or nine games from April to June each year. The contests — each two innings long — allow everyone to bat and field the ball. No one keeps score. The players range from 5 years old in the Little League to 55 years old in the seniors division, Laverty told LNP.

“I have always described the league as pure joy,” said Challenger of Lancaster County Commissioner Mike Tafelski. “Each player enjoys playing America’s pastime without concern for batting averages, strikeouts or winning because most of them don’t have the opportunity to play organized team sports.”

Anyone is allowed to join, though Challenger is geared to those with physical, mental or intellectual disabilities, Laverty told Evans.

He noted that parents are sometimes surprised that a league like Challenger exists for their child.

Tafelski agreed. “I can hear it in their voice when I explain to them that this league is appropriate for their son or daughter — the relief and excitement that their son or daughter will have the chance to play baseball.”

Challenger is free to play and every player is paired with a “buddy,” Laverty told LNP.

There also are ways for members of the community who don’t already have family participating to get involved in Challenger. Here are some suggestions from the Little League website:

— Volunteer. “Many volunteer opportunities exist including volunteering as a buddy for a Challenger player ... (and) offering administrative support.”

— Make a gift. It could be a donation of money or new or gently used equipment.

— Refer a participant. “Help spread the word and refer families of children with developmental and/or physical challenges” to the Challenger program.

— Attend a game. “To watch a Challenger ... game is to watch Little League played in its purest form, young athletes playing the game for the love of the game.”

As Laverty told LNP, “You can’t go to these games and not have a smile on your face watching kids enjoy themselves like any other kid.”

Kudos to Challenger of Lancaster County for reaching 30 years. This is a significant milestone, and we look forward to the league bringing the wonderful, quintessentially American game of baseball to people with special needs for many years to come.