By Stefan Oliva SYRACUSE (NCC NEWS) – The Syracuse Challenger League gives people with special needs the opportunity to play baseball. Program director and Challenger League parent, Jennifer Savastino, has gone beyond the role of her title by providing a haven for children to “be themselves 100 percent,” she said.
She works with coaches and parents to encourage players to feel comfortable and confident. Her stepson Daniel, 23, participates in the adult section of the program. Her son, Joshua, 12, helps a visually impaired child in the league. In addition to aids for walking, there’s even a baseball for the hearing impaired.
The Challenger League has games in June and July twice a week. Each contest is two innings long, giving all players a chance to step to home plate twice. Statistics such as balls, runs and strikes are not tallied, but each player gets to hit the ball, after which they take a base. At the end of each game, once the bases are loaded and the last batter hits, it is considered a grand slam and all of the kids huddle up and cheer for each other. Opposing players usually high five each other when they get on base.
Savastino emphasizes that just because the kids don’t play the same way as others, they are still as enthusiastic. “They may play [baseball] a little differently than the 12-year-old who’s hitting home runs in his little league team,” she said, “but he’s just as excited about playing.”