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Challenger ballplayers have a league of their own

May 23, 2004|By BONNIE H. BRECHBILL

Children with special needs in Franklin County finally will have a league of their own, thanks to the efforts of several area residents.

Penmar Youth League Inc. of Blue Ridge Summit is starting a Little League Challenger Division baseball team for physically and mentally challenged children ages 5 to 18. Team shirts will be provided, and there are no registration fees. Players who need assistance will be assigned a buddy.

Prospective team members and their parents gathered at Penmar Park Saturday to register for the league. The children explored the dugout and practiced throwing while their parents talked.

Mark McLaughlin of Rouzerville, Pa., who has coached for 12 years with the Penmar Youth League, said he and another coach, Ed Barnett of Waynesboro, Pa., felt there was a need for a Challenger Little League team.

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"This is a great opportunity to let all the kids play baseball," McLaughlin said. "Now, any kid can go out on the field and play organized baseball."

McLaughlin said that while he and Barnett came up with the idea for a new league in Franklin County, Jessie Miller is "making it happen."

Miller, 17, a senior at Waynesboro Area Senior High School, has taken on the Challenger League as her senior project, which is required for graduation. She made posters and registration forms, contacted people and set up the registration day, she said. She also will serve as a buddy at games.

Miller said she and her mother went to Maugansville to watch a Challenger League game to obtain information.

"It looked like a lot of fun for (the players), and it was fun to watch," she said. "They were all smiling, and all the fielders were running to the ball."

McLaughlin said there will be one or two teams, depending on how many children register. About 13 are signed up now, he said, and he is hoping for two teams.

"Everyone will be learning at once," he said, adding that he thinks the buddy system will benefit everyone. "The buddy will learn the player's needs and learn to accept them. It will be a growing thing for the buddies as well."

Once the league is established, he hopes to schedule games with Challenger League teams in Maugansville.

Challenger games are not as competitive as other Little League games, he said.

"We don't keep score, the kids bat around and they run only to first base," McLaughlin said. "They can swing on their own, or use a tee."

Sitting in the dugout of the ball field at Penmar Park, McLaughlin said that about $2,000 in funding already has been obtained, with the Waynesboro Area Collaborative Preventive Coalition and the Logan Noll Golf Tournament as the main sponsors.

Logan Noll, a student at Franklin Learning Center, signed up for the Challenger League. His grandmother, Teresa Kauffman, said that Logan's great-uncle and great-aunt, Dick and Kaye George, started the golf tournament shortly after Logan was born six years ago, with the proceeds providing funding for children with disabilities.

The Challenger Division is a fully sanctioned division of Little League International Inc. of Williamsport, Pa. To register your child, call Ed Barnett at 1-717-762-0700, Mark McLaughlin at 1-717-762-1402 or Jessie or Kathy Miller at 1-717-749-9933.

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