The San Jacinto College Gators baseball team partnered with the North Shore Little League Challenger Division to commemorate its second annual Challenger Day event Saturday, March 26. The day was celebrated by fans of the Challenger Division and Gators alike with special guest Wayne Oquin from the North Shore Rotary Club.
"We are very fortunate to be able to positively impact the lives of the kids and families around us and to instill a foundation of community support in the young players at San Jac," said Tom Arrington, College head baseball coach.
The North Shore Little League Challenger Division started five years ago as part of the national Little League Challenger Program. The division enables boys and girls with physical and mental challenges, ages 4-18 or up to age 22 if still enrolled in high school, to enjoy baseball along with the millions of other children who participate in the sport. More than 30,000 athletes participate in 950 Challenger programs worldwide.
Both the Gators and the Alvin Community College Dolphins acted as buddies during the game. The buddies assist the Challenger players on the field as needed. Whenever possible, players bat and make plays themselves.
The day was inspired by Gators assistant coach Kory Koehler's son Keaton, who was born with brain deformities. Doctors told the Koehlers their baby would not live more than five to 10 hours without oxygen. Keaton survived and has been diagnosed with Desmosterolosis, a condition on the cerebral palsy spectrum. The 10-year-old now competes with the other 60 athletes in the North Shore Little League Challenger Division.
"My wife, Erika, and I couldn't be more grateful for the opportunity to involve our son and the Challenger Division into our spring schedule of events," Koehler said. "Challenger Day provides tremendous life lessons to our student-athletes while putting joy in the hearts of families that endure the struggle daily. If for just a few hours, it provides a world's worth of smiles to those who need it."
Eric Kirchner, North Shore Little League president and Galena Park ISD program director of special education, says events like the Challenger Game "help us to get the word out about our organization to a different audience but also help our community and buddies like the Gators to see our special needs children as the diverse and dynamic group they are."
"Seeing these big guys out there with our Challenger athletes, laughing and chasing them around the bases, makes us all smile," Kirchner said. "We see our regular volunteer buddies from the high schools and other sports come in and make long-lasting connections and friendships with our athletes, and that's what it's all about."
To learn more about the North Shore Little League Challenger Division, visit facebook.com/NSLLChallengerDivision.