Challenge accepted

Challenger Division offers inspiration and fellowship
Jun. 07, 2013 @ 10:45 PM

During the week, ballparks across Rutherford County are littered with young baseball and softball players looking to hone their skills or just have a good time with friends.

These evenings under the lights on warm summer nights allow children to experience a rite of passage that so many youngsters experience early in life, but what about those that can't necessarily join their young peers? What about those who are physically or mentally challenged? What about those with Down's syndrome? What about those in wheelchairs?

For those, there's the Challenger Division.

The two Rutherford County Challenger Division teams — each comprised of eight players — square off on Saturday mornings at 10 a.m. and alternate game sites between Rutherfordton and Forest City.

"Rutherfordton's Donna Cobb had the vision for it and put the information out there in 2008 to see who was interested," said Angie Scoggins, co-coordinator of the Challenger Division. "In the second season Brian (Angie's husband) and I started coordinating and the rest is history."

Angie's son, Wally, plays in the outfield for Gregory's Original and has been a member of the division for all six years of its existence. Wally is 10 years old and has Pallister-Killian syndrome and autism.

"We just wanted an option," Angie said. "We don't have Special Olympics here anymore or other sporting events that our children can do. We get information from the schools about Little League, football and all those, but the reality is that these kids can't do that."

"Having a special needs child and being able to get these kids out here on a ball field and having something they normally wouldn't be able to do that they may see their brothers or sisters doing is special," Brain, who also coaches the Gregory's Original Challenger team, said. "They might feel like they're separated from the world if it wasn't for this. We're just happy to be a part of that."

The division allows children 4-21 years old the chance to participate as long as they have a medical diagnosis that prohibits them from regular Little League play and are still enrolled in the school system.

The division plays early on Saturday's when the rest of the parks are void of action so they can beat the heat, something that can be detrimental to several of the players' health and medications.

Aaron Lonon, 13, a third baseman for Gregory's Original mans the hot corner despite having Down's syndrome. His father Michael stands close by keeping him focused on the action while enjoying his son's accomplishments.

"He likes to play ball but he just can't compete on the normal level because he doesn't understand the rules of the game, but in this league he gets to have fun and bat. If he doesn't run or if he wants to sit down he can do so," Michael said.

The satisfaction felt from this group tends to outweigh that of anything else.

"I love every minute of it. I have an older son who did really well in ball and Aaron grew up watching so he always wanted to play," Micheal said. "I get more satisfaction out of watching him hit the ball then I ever did with my other son. Small steps equal huge success for them."

Games only tend to last two or three innings and every player gets a chance to bat in every inning. Every at-bat the kid swings until they make contact, whether it takes two or 20 pitches.

Even with the division's success with new, high-quality jerseys and two full teams, Angie has big plans for the future.

"One of our obstacles is fielding. This is where the Little League plays and we would love to be a part of them but that isn't always possible," Angie said. "We do all we can to make sure all the children have their abilities and needs met because we don't want any of them to feel separated."

The division uses the t-ball field at Crestview Park because it's the only field fully handicap accessible. However, those in wheelchairs or walkers still have to fight their way through high grass and dirt.

"Our dream is to one day have a special Challenger field that is handicap accessible," Angie said. "We know of one in Myrle beach, S.C. called the Miracle League. The field is all rubberized and looks just like an actual field. It's totally accessible to where those in a wheelchair or walkers can move around and it's real safe. We dream that maybe one day we can offer that."

The division offers an outlet for the parents as well to come together and enjoy the fellowship their children develop while creating fellowship of their own.

"Not only is it good for the kids to come out and have fun and exercise, but I think it's good for the parents to come out and be with other parents that understand," Angie said.

Danny Adams, coach of the Iron Ink team, spends the game coaching his batters from behind the plate despite the danger of tipped balls that seem to hit him more often than not. Adams' daughter, Kenley, has been on his team throughout his five-year coaching tenure.

"My daughter has a learning disability and she got involved with it through one of her friends. She started in the middle of the season and for the past five years we've been here," Adams said. " We love our kids to death and coaching them has made me grow up a whole lot. I don't know how to put it in words."

"It' a passion of ours and I don't ever see us quitting," Brian Scoggins added. "We love them and once you make a friend with these kids you have a friend for life."

From time to time Angie and Brian like to bring the teams to events where they can play against new competition and meet other Challenger Division kids, or even bring other teams to them.

"A lot of the larger teams have jamborees where they travel and have games all day," Scoggins said. "We tried to do that three years ago and a team from Greenville and Salisbury came and we had a big day of it."

Preferably, Angie hopes to form more teams within the county.

"We have 800 county students in special needs programs," Angie said. "That's the frustrating thing. If we have 800 kids, why are there only 16 playing?"

The division is currently holding a fundraiser sponsored by Davis Donuts.

"We were going to do Krispy Kreme but then I remembered Davis Donuts does a fundraiser with their donut holes. I figured if we were going to raise money for us we could keep it in the community too ... plus I love Davis Donuts," Angie joked. "I might be the one buying the most donut holes."

To order donut holes or make a tax-deductible donation to the Challenger division, contact Angie Scoggins at (828) 289-6258.

After all the players got their swings in on Saturday and the dust settled from all the highly-anticipated slides into home plate, the kids rehydrated with a juice pouch while their coaches handed out game balls to the day's top performers.

Bryson Williams, a 12-year-old boy with spina bifida and hydrocephalus, is limited to a wheelchair but it doesn't stop him from taking on the challenge of baseball with a little help from his father, Eddie. Bryson was awarded the game ball for Gregory's Original.

Bryson, who is one of the more outgoing players on the field as he taps the plate before each pitch and dares the opposing pitcher to throw him a good pitch, carried his personality into his post-game interview.

"I love the team and I love playing on the team," Bryson said. "I like to go kick butt. I'm awesome."

I think we can all agree.