Challenger baseball brings an accessible game to Cloverdale kids

Organizers recruiting now for players, volunteers and sponsors of new baseball division for kids with physical, cognitive disabilities

As a minor baseball coach and father, Cloverdale’s Jeff Sandes understands the difference being active in team sports makes in a kid’s life.

There’s the confidence that comes with learning and mastering new skills, and feeling like you’re part of the team and making new friends.

This spring, Cloverdale will be home to a new baseball league that will provide opportunity for even more kids to play ball.

Challenger Baseball is a division of Baseball B.C. that provides children (ages five to 18) with physical and cognitive disabilities to enjoy the thrill of playing baseball, and being part of a team.

“We’re trying it out this year for the first time,” says Sandes, who is recruiting volunteers and players for two teams that will play Sunday afternoons from April to June at Cloverdale Ball Park (17383 61A Ave.), using the premier Mosquito diamond.

The program is free: There are no registration costs, deposits – or, he notes happily, volunteer shifts for parents.

Uniforms are provided, and the kids get to keep them at the end of the season.

Every player gets a designated buddy for each game, meaning parents can step back and simply enjoy watching their child play.

“Parents don’t have to be out there,” Sandes says. “A big, important feature of the program is so the parents don’t have to do any work.”

Buddies will assist the players in a variety of ways – from pushing players around the bases, or showing them how to swing the bat to fielding balls hit in their direction.

Emphasis is on fun: nobody will be keeping score.

“No outs, everyone hits each inning, and the last batter clears the bases,” says Sandes.

Opening ceremonies are April 9, and Sandes is hoping to organize additional – free – activities and outings that aren’t related to baseball to help the teams build and bond.

In 2010, Little League B.C. and the B.C. Minor Baseball Association partnered to promote the program under Baseball B.C., and there are already Challenger programs in such nearby communities as Langley and Whalley.

Sandes,  who is participating as a parent, a coach, and as coordinator of the new Challenger Cloverdale division, jumped at the chance to get the program off the ground here.

He’s particularly excited about the volunteering possibilities the division will open up for local youths and individuals.

“We’re looking for students and other people who want to put their heart into it.”

He says parents and buddies – especially those who have never before worked with children with cognitive or physical disabilities – will get even more out of the program than the players.

There will be two Cloverdale teams to start with, although Sandes concedes, “The potential is huge,” he says. “Hopefully, we’ll be bursting at the seams.”

With opening day weeks away, Sandes  expects the new division will encounter some speed bumps.

“For example, our dugouts aren’t big enough to house wheelchairs. In the future, once we know the best diamond to use, we can address a configuration, additional pathways, or whatever else we need to deal with.”

The program is intended to be self-sustaining, so organizers will be recruiting sponsors, too.

To register, volunteer, donate, or help run the program, email or call 778-708-0196.


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