PARIS, Ill. (WTWO/WAWV) — After having its season canceled last year due to players being at high risk for COVID-19, the Little League Challengers of East Central Illinois opened its 2021 season on the Fourth of July.
The organization provides kids with special needs a chance to play baseball in a safe environment.
“These kids have watched their brothers and friends play baseball and the crowds cheer for them in a real life baseball game. Now, they get to do it,” League President Matt Colvin said. “They hit the ball, people yell at them and they drop their bat and smile. It’s the best feeling ever.”
Every player bats, runs the bases and scores, and there are no outs. Alongside each player is a “buddy” or volunteer who assists each player, whether it be hitting or base running.
Since being developed as a branch of the Challengers League’s national organization, East Central Illinois has seen a continuous increase in player enrollment that expands to areas outside of Paris, Ill.
Colvin said the league is most proud of how it provides a cost friendly environment for both players and families.
“They pay for nothing. We pay for bats, gloves, uniforms, hats, equipment bags,” Colvin said. “Everything we do outside as a team like trips, we pay for. We don’t want parents to pay.”
Summer Tryon said she is thankful her daughter Allison, who is autistic, has a place to feel included.
“To form this league and to actually go out there and see her smiling and having fun is what every parent wants when their kid plays a sport,” Tryon said. “She loves it.”
Allison Garretson said it has been a year that she has been waiting to return to the diamond.
“I didn’t get to comeback last year because of COVID-19,” she said. “But, this year I was super excited to be back, it’s felt so long. My goal is to hit 1000 home runs.”
Garretson’s teammate Lane Cline suffers from a rare genetic disorder and is wheelchair bound. His mom Lori Cline said she thinks allowing him the opportunity to be a part of a team has helped him developed new skills.
“This has really given him an opportunity to be a part of a team, to be socially interactive with the team,” Cline said. “Not only that, but it has given us a chance to do more things as a family.”
Currently, the City of Paris is building a new all-accessible field for the Challengers League. It will include availability for softball and cement dugouts for anyone in a wheelchair.