Challenger League inspiring, fun

District 11 Challenger League competitors Christian Chamberlain (left) and Tyler King (right) stand at first base.

District 11 Challenger League competitor Ethan Cooper gets ready to swing at a pitch on Saturday afternoon.

WHEELERSBURG — In sports, it’s always special to take in the atmosphere that surrounds any sporting event — especially if it’s a major sport.

However, when one comes to watch the Major League of all major sporting leagues, there’s truly nothing that can match it.

That’s exactly the kind of feeling that one obtains when he or she comes out to watch the District 11 Challenger League take to the field at Gene Bennett Park in Wheelersburg.

Motorcycle clubs, including Ryan Gregory of Stray Dawgs, feel the same way.

That’s why Gregory, his crew, and riders from at least three additional motorcycle clubs from around the area made a trip to Gene Bennett Park as part of the Fourth Annual District 11 Challenger Baseball League Bike Run, which was held on Saturday.

For Michele King, the feeling of having the very people that make the days of so many youngsters brings great joy and pleasure.

“This is the Major Leagues,” King said. “These are our All-Stars, as we like to say. It’s really nice to see all the bikers coming together and supporting our league.”

However, the joy that the kids bring to the bikers, Gregory says, is what makes it special to him.

“It means everything to us,” Gregory said. “As much as the kids look forward to (us bringing our motorcycles out to the field), we look forward to it just as much.”

The District 11 Challenger League, which was established in 2006, allows boys and girls facing physical and mental challenges the opportunity to enjoy the full benefits of Little League in an environment structured to their abilities. No outs or runs are counted, and everybody plays, fields, and scores in the contests that the Challenger League puts on.

In addition to those pluses, the most important aspect is the fact that there’s no jeering or taunting — only a welcoming atmosphere that encourages development and growth.

“It’s nice to see teachers, aunts, uncles, neighbors, come and watch, in addition to parents and grandparents,” King said. “They all have their own little cheering section.”

Because of this welcoming format that allows all with disabilities to come out to the ballfield and have a good time, the league has grown immensely since its formation in 2006. As of the present day, approximately 80 players, across six teams, take part in the league — a vast growth from the league’s first year, when the league had two teams.

“That’s what it’s all about,” King said of the league’s purpose. “It’s about the children who don’t get to participate with other kids. It’s their time to shine. This league is there for them to thrive, and for them to get their moment in the sun as far as playing baseball, being a kid, socializing and making friends, and making lifelong memories are concerned. That makes me happy.”

A big part of the league’s growth has been because of the bike riders. In fact, the Stray Dawgs, along with Portsmouth Motorcycle Club, American Legion Bikers, and 858 have donated to the league in the past. During the bike rides themselves, the youngsters in the Challenger League not only get to watch the motorcycles take to the field, but also get to talk to the bikers, touch the motorcycles, and even hop on with, the bikers.

“They’ve always helped us in the past with additional fundraising,” King said. “I’ll never forget when we started, (Ryan Gregory) said, ‘These are our kids, too.’ That’s always been touching that community members value our children as much as we do. They care, want to see them prosper, and simply have fun. They support our league.”

That support, Gregory says, is to let the kids know that they have supporters from all across the Scioto County area.

“It’s good for Scioto County,” Gregory said. “It’s good to let the kids and families know that they’re not alone. It’s humbling for ourselves, and for riders of other clubs, to be able to do this. It’s an honor for us to be able to do this and to be invited back every year.”

And it’s certainly well-received and appreciated — especially from the youngsters who take to the field to participate in the Major League of all Major Leagues.

“They really enjoyed today’s event with the bike riders,” King said. “We look forward to it all year. When you hear them coming, you see the faces of the kids light up, and they start cheering. It makes it all worthwhile. It’s why we do what we do.”

To make a donation to the Challenger Baseball League, send all checks payable to District 11 Challenger Baseball, P.O. Box 888, Portsmouth, OH 45662.

Reach Kevin Colley at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930 OR on Twitter @ColleyKevin7