Baseball in Bergenfield is as much a tradition as it is a sport in this city, a game that is timeless and one that both children and adults alike can enjoy. For the Bergenfield Challenger League, this love of baseball is incredibly strong. The program, which is now in open enrollment, is designed to help special needs children both participate in and enjoy recreational baseball.
“We support all kids no matter the disability, the coaches and parents alike get to help their kids enjoy sports,” said Lou Harris, who has been the league administrator for the past 25 years. “Everyone is included and gets to play, we don’t turn anybody down.”
Founded in 1991, the Challenger League has operated as a completely free program supported by parents and local businesses and uses a Buddy system in which volunteers are partnered with special needs players in order to enhance their experience while playing. The Buddy system consists of other recreation sports athletes, parents and various volunteers. All players are issued their own uniforms and play games on Hickey Field located in Bergenfield for a season that begins in late April and extends through June.
“Every player gets to bat, hit the ball and run the bases,” said Harris. “The kids have fun scoring and seeing their runs appear on the scoreboard.”
The Bergenfield Challenger League usually plays other local teams from Tenafly, Ramsey, Dumont, River Edge and Paramus. The program creates teams of 10 to 12 players split into age groups that support ages 5 through 19, although special needs children that have not completed high school may also be eligible. Games are not competitive and always end in a tie; the kids get to experience all aspects of baseball both at bat and in the field.
“Everybody should have the opportunity to play, the kids all love baseball,” said Harris. “We are constantly looking for more kids and volunteers to add to the program.”
The program is part of Little League International, which has just added a senior Challenger League that supports players once they age out of the standard program. Currently in Bergenfield, the league is looking for players and Buddy volunteers for its 2015 season.
“My favorite thing about the league is that it gives the kids the opportunity to play baseball on a full-sized field, I love to see the kids happy,” said Harris. “All the kids get to hit the ball and run.”
Anyone looking for information on the Challenger League, looking to enroll a player or become a Buddy volunteer can contact the Bergenfield Recreation department or Lou Harris at 201-669-9323.