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Commentary: Challengers warm hearts of many at SCLL's Championship Night
by Dan Eckles
Jun 12, 2013 | 2146 views | 0 0 comments | 69 69 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Tribune photo by John Byrne - Natasha Prince was all smiles running toward first base during her Challengers exhibition game Tuesday night at GERP.
Tribune photo by John Byrne - Natasha Prince was all smiles running toward first base during her Challengers exhibition game Tuesday night at GERP.
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There may be some things that special needs children will never do. But it's a good thing there are people like Kathy Crawford around. She's one of those special people who make sure we don't put up barriers if we don't need to.

Crawford was one of the driving forces behind the inception of the Challengers Division in Nevada's Little League District 1. The Challengers Division allows special needs children to play a game of modified baseball.

"For our kids, this gives them something to do too," said Crawford, whose son is autistic and was among the group that started Challengers in the Truckee Meadows 20-plus years ago. "We give out trophies to the kids. When they get a trophy, it's like you're giving them a million bucks."

Special needs children from throughout the District 1 Region, Sparks, Reno, South Tahoe Truckee and beyond can participate in the league, which plays its regular season schedule at Reno National's Little League complex at Swope Middle School.

The league has eight teams and 87 children participating this spring. On Tuesday night, 24 of those kids played an exhibition game at Golden Eagle Regional Park during Sparks Centennial Little League's championship night, which featured seven different division championship games.

"This is always something I've thought about doing," SCLL President Steven Howe said, alluding to his efforts to bring a Challengers game to the Rail City. "We talked about when to do it and tonight was the best night. With all the people here tonight, this game is the epicenter of the night.

"I get worked up watching these kids play and the smiles on their faces. I want our (SCLL) kids to see these kids with real challenges. They just show up and play baseball and love it. It's very humbling."

Indeed it was humbling. As I talked to game organizers, league officials and parents I watched the special needs players swinging at pitches, running the bases and fielding balls on the turf, I was humbled. I was amazed at the joy on those kids faces and really how little effort it took to organize a game. It was a low-work, high reward effort.

Then I glanced at my two beautiful children and soaked in the moment, appreciating the challenges I have with my kids pale in comparison to those that parents of special needs children are challenged with every day.

Samantha Bonham knows those challenges. Her son Joshwa, 5, battles partial trisomy 16p and sensory processing disorder. Bonham said her son is lucky to be alive and that the trisomy is a leading cause of miscarriage. She said Joshwa has learning delays and speech delays. But there he was Tuesday night, enjoying a warm late spring evening at Golden Eagle Regional Park, knocking the baseball around and racing around the sacks like a gold medal was on the line.

He was in 5-year-old heaven, and he wasn't alone, loving every minute of the game. So was his mother, holding back tears.

"It's just amazing. He loves it," Samantha Bonham said. "He has fun and feels like he is important, which he is. It's emotional to talk about. My older son plays for Reno Continental and we had an interleague game at Swope against Reno National. I saw the Challenger kids playing. I couldn't stop watching. Kathy (Crawford) saw me and told me all about it. Joshwa is the fourth of five kids and now he has something to play like his brothers and sisters."

At most Challenger games, parents go onto the field. They work with and direct their children where to go and how to play. Tuesday night at GERP, 13 and 14-year old upper division players from SCLL were on field helpers for the Challenger kids.

"It's part of the 'Buddy Program," Howe said. "It's great for these able-bodied kids to help out and it's a nice change for the parents. They get to sit back in the stands and watch it all."

It takes special people to make special programs like Challengers a success. Crawford could have stepped away a long time ago, but she still stays actively involved as the league's director. Her son Kevin, 31, handles the microphone and does public address announcing for many of the games.

I'm usually not at a loss for words, but I do know my words don't do justice to the Challengers players and league organizers. From all of us in the northern Nevada community, thank you for your time and undeterred efforts in making the world of theses special needs kids, the same one the rest of us live in, a lot better place!

Dan Eckles is the Sparks Tribune's Managing/Sports Editor. He can be reached via email at: deckles@dailysparkstribune.com

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