Challenger League holds championship game

Published 4:44 pm Sunday, June 7, 2015

The softball game played Saturday morning at Halls Ferry Park was a lot different than the tournament played roughly 10 hours before at Bazinsky Field. Some of the best 12 and under girls’ softball players competed in the VGSA Championship and saw a high level of competition and athleticism.

Saturday morning, children with disabilities got their chance to compete in the Challenger’s League Championship game. The game was full of encouraging and heartwarming moments.

“They love every minute of it, you can tell by watching today,” Sandy Hearn said, director of Challengers league and coach of the Mississippi Mudbugs. “Just hitting a small little flub is awesome to them. They enjoy doing what they do.”

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Challenger league is a slow-pitch softball league for children with special needs. Player’s ages range from four to 42-years-old. Challenger league is really about hand-and-eye coordination. Players have to be ready to hit the ball, see it and be able to run the bases. It is also about having fun.

Hearn said to be able to get the kids to home plate, hit a ball, and run the bases is the name of the game to them, not who wins or who loses.

The league started around 15 years ago and Hearn has been with it for 11 years. Hearn has seen a lot of the kids come through the program. Some started as little children needing to hit the ball off a tee and have now evolved to be able to play without it.

The first game played was for children who were more disabled than the older kids. This game stripped away traditional rules for the game to encourage a fun environment.

VGSA President Rick Daughtry pitched to kids a few feet up from the pitcher’s mound. The players were pitched to until they made contact with the ball, no matter how significant the swing was.

“Some of these guys and girls on the elevated section can play some ball. They’re really sharp,” Daughtry said.

Daughtry has been with the Challengers league for about a month and said coming out there and playing with those children is probably the most fulfilling sporting activity he’s done.

Jacob Ingram was a big player Riverside Construction, scoring four times and hitting at least two home runs. Matt Grogan also had a big game hitting four home runs for Kiwanis Kids and Batesville Casket.

The second game played was for kids with more advanced skills in softball. Outs and foul balls were kept in this game.

Tyree Woodland has been playing with the challenger league for a while and like playing for the league. Woodland enjoys hitting the ball and making his team happy.

“I like running the bases, hitting the ball and running the score up,” Woodland said.

Woodlands teammate, Tommy Younger said it is always fun to play baseball and his favorite part is hitting homeruns. Younger describes himself as a power hitter and used to lift weights to build muscle and strength. Younger doesn’t like to quit on his team, because he feels they need him.

“You have to have 9-man strength to hit a homerun,” Younger said.

Woodland and Younger will be traveling with the Mississippi Mudbugs to Kansas to play in a Special Olympics league with Hearn. Two years ago they traveled to New Jersey and were undefeated in that tournament.

The children develop a close bond with the coaches in Challengers league. During the post-game cookout, Ingram was emotional about Mr. Wong leaving Vicksburg High School. Hearn is a cafeteria manager at Vicksburg High and will be there to support Ingram this year. Hearn loves the children and they mean a lot to her.

“I’m here to let them be able to play the ball game like other children,” Hearn said. “I think in turn I mean a lot to them. They know that I’m going to be here for them.”