Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2013, 10:11 pm

Challenger Baseball celebrates 20 years

Comment on this story

By John Marx, jmarx@qconline.com

More photos from this shoot
Photo: Paul Colletti
Drew DeMarlie, from Milan, gets a fist bump from Sean Easler after making a throw during the Challenger Baseball game at Modern Woodmen Park in Davenport on Sept. 22. Challenger Baseball in the Quad-Cities will be celebrating 20 years this season.
In my free time, I coach.

I see athletes of all shapes, sizes, abilities and backgrounds. At times, coaching can be a grind; it's the nature of the beast when dealing with high school baseball and football players.

When frustration sets in or my perspective gets bent in the wrong direction, I head to Moline's Riverside or Davenport's Modern Woodmen parks for a refresher course in appreciation.
I call it my "Challenger-League fix.'' To steal from the movie "Cool Hand Luke,'' "It gets my mind right.''

There I'll watch athletes from age 5 play baseball for the joy that is the game. No whining, no complaining, no politics and no parents living vicariously through Jimmy or Janet's athletic accomplishments.

Challenger Baseball is the greatest 90-minute-pick-me-up outside of time spent doing dad and son things with my boy. A healthy 9-year-old it should be noted, that faces no special-needs obstacles like Challenger players.

Challenger Baseball locally is celebrating 20 years this season. Little League Baseball formed the Challenger Division in 1988 for children with disabilities to play the sport of baseball. Rock Island's Mary Boehm started our local Challenger League in 1992.

Challenger Baseball affords every person the chance to participate in a structured athletic program, regardless of their age and/or ability.
Games are two innings with every player hitting twice and fielding twice. Score is not kept, and there is equipment to adapt the sport for any type of disability. Play goes from Sunday afternoons beginning the last weekend of April through the end of June (there is a break Memorial Day weekend). Everyone locally volunteers their time, and the 2013 season opens on April 28 at 1 p.m. The regular season ends with a pizza, pool party at Whitewater Junction on the last Sunday in June.
Every August (the 24th this year), The Great River Challenge takes place at Modern Woodmen Park. Challenger Baseball Leagues from Illinois go head-to-head with leagues from Iowa. The 1 p.m. event has become the event of the season for both leagues and for us outsiders who pencil in the date on our calendars months in advance.
If you are into athletes who play simply for the love and joy of the game, who gave it their all on every pitch, hit and run, then find a Challenger Sunday and watch. It will make you appreciate the players before you and -- if your priorities have taken a turn sideways -- put you back on the right path.

Disney World has nothing on Challenger-Baseball Sundays, for a day with these special athletes, coaches and families, is the happiest place on earth.


Happy birthday.


For Challenger League information, go to molinechallengerleague.com or you can contact Pam Swim at rpswim@mchsi.com or 786-3097.




Columnist John Marx can be reached at (309) 757-8388 or jmarx@qconline.com.