Our National Pastime is alive and well on the local diamond.
All throughout the early summer months, a group of “very special athletes” gathered in Hawley’s Bingham Park to have a good time and hone their budding baseball skills.
Thanks to the efforts of Emily Cooper and her Dad, Magisterial District Court Judge Alan Cooper, Challenger Division action recently wrapped up its second season...a season that received rave reviews from players and family members alike.
“Everyone had a terrific time,” Al Cooper told The News Eagle. “I think it’s safe to say that the coaches had just as much fun as the players...maybe more! It’s a very rewarding experience.”
The Challenger Division concept is easy to understand:?it’s simply a baseball league tailored specially for boys and girls with special needs...physical, psychological or emotional.
The program boasted solid growth in its first two years. In fact, by the time this most recent season ended, more than two dozen players were regularly attending Challenger Division Saturdays.
“We experienced about a 50% growth spurt, which is really great,”?Al said. “The kids are having a good time. They’re learning to play baseball; but, more importantly, they’re getting a chance to interact outside of school and their various therapy settings.”
On the Field
The original idea for the Challenger Division format came from Emily Cooper, a Wallenpaupack Area student/athlete.
Emily had been very active in sports throughout her childhood. She played softball for her Dad’s Missy team and continues to be a dedicated cross country runner in high school.
Two years ago, Emily was casting about for an idea to fulfill two goals. She needed to begin her senior project and was already working hard on attaining her Girls Scouts gold award.
She and her Dad agreed that the Challenger Division was a perfect idea.
“The part I?like best is that everyone can just come and play...there’s no pressure,”?Emily said. “We really don’t care about who wins and who loses. It’s all about the kids having fun.”
Al Cooper agrees whole-heartedly with his daughter’s assessment. He’s also thrilled to point out that the Challenger Division concept seems to have caught on around the region.
Currently, there is a similar program in Milford and conversation has begun to possibly form another in the Honesdale area.
“I think that would be pretty amazing,”?he said. “Challenger really seems to touch everyone who’s involved in interesting ways.”
Al went on to explain that “helpers” have come out of the woodwork each week to lend a hand. The most recent group was Coach John Gilpin and his District 32 championship team.
“The kids loved it and I know the helpers learned something, too,”?said Al. “It kind of puts your life into perspective when you see these kids struggling to do things that most of us take for granted. I?think our helpers leave here with a newfound appreciation for what they have.”
The Challenger Division is sponsored by generous grants from the Pike County Bar Association.
The Newfoundland and Hawley Rotary Clubs also play major roles.
Pike Bar President Elizabeth A. Erickson Kameen was recently on hand to present a $1,000 check to the league’s organizers. Also in attendance was Wayne County President Judge Ray Hamill, Pike County President Judge Kameen and Pike County DA Ray Tonkin.
Challenger Division Baseball is open to boys & girls, ages 5-20. Players gather at Bingham Park each Saturday morning to play three inning t-ball games.
Emily and Al Cooper are optimistic that the league will be back stronger than ever next spring!