The MOT Challenger League has been bringing joy to the lives of challenged children since the early 2000s, and it is Coach Lisa Johannsen’s hope that the program keeps doing that far into the future.
Nationally, the Challenger League was started in 1989, as a part of the Little League. The Challenger League program was developed for children ages 4 to 18 with physical and intellectual challenges.
“There are different divisions in Little League, normally based on age,” said Johannsen, who is the MOT Challenger Division coordinator, as well as the coach for the team named after the Phillies. “With Challenger though, it is a division specifically unique to children that have disabilities. I have kids that are blind, have hearing impairments, have Down Syndrome or autism. It is open to any child with a disability.”
Johannsen said she has one child on the team who has no forearms.
“Basically, his hands are coming out from his shoulders. He is missing from his wrist all the way up to his shoulder,” Johannsen said. “When you have arms coming out, he only has hands.”
Johannsen explained that despite the disability, the boy has found a way to play the game.
“He can make throws to first, though it isn’t always accurate,” Johannsen said. “If a ball comes to him on the ground, he drops the to the ground to get it. He can also swing a bat. It is amazing to see him.”
Johannsen believes that while the children are taught the fundamentals of the sport of baseball, that the MOT Challenger League also gives them more than that.
“I’ve been a coach for 28 years, and based on the comments from the kids and that parents, it’s more than a baseball program,” Johannsen said. “With our kids, in particular, I run a program where I inter-leagued it with the local schools and other organizations to where we have a ‘Buddy for a Night.’”
Johannsen explained that Buddy for a Night brings children without disabilities to come and play with the children of the Challenger League, raising awareness in the schools and community.
According to Johannsen, the kids develop by first learning the game, but also having different “buddies” come out to help them. Johannsen says that this helps them learn to adapt to change, and increases their social skills.
“They are meeting new people, and they are learning to be receptive to change and meeting new people,” Johannsen said. “Some tend to do better with boys, or others with girls, but this forces them to be more comfortable across the board.”
At first the children can be bashful and shy, but as time goes on, they become more assertive, she said.
For information on joining the league or becoming a buddy, email Johannsen at firstname.lastname@example.org.