The Little League Challengers of East Central Illinois celebrated the conclusion of the league’s fifth season Wednesday (July 4) with the traditional all-star game.
And while the league has continued to grow from the first year when eight players signed up, for league president Matt Colvin, the best is yet to come.
“We had 46 players this season including 17 new players,” Colvin said as he saw in his golf cart under a tree just outside of the centerfield fence Wednesday. “My dream is to have 100 players. It could happen.”
The Challenger League allows special needs children ages three to 21 to play a modified baseball game with their peers. “It’s something many of their parents never thought could happen,” he noted.
And while its likely the league will add at least one team next year, “We should’ve done that this year but it all worked out,” he said, Colvin is beyond excited because there is a field of their own in the future, thanks to the Paris American Legion.
Colvin explained the league has been playing on the Paris Little League fields on Fridays when one of the fields is available. And while Rural King field is immaculately groomed, the dugouts aren’t Challenger friendly.
“There’s just not enough room in the dugouts for wheelchairs and other things these kids need besides the base
baseball equipment,” he said. The dugouts at the new field will be wide enough that all types of wheelchairs will be accessible. There will also be plenty of room for the Challenger Buddies — the volunteers who help the players bat and circumvent the bases.
The new field will be located behind the Paris American Legion where the soccer field is now located. “It wasn’t being used and this is an opportunity to provide this league a home,” Colvin explained.
Francis and Associates will be laying out the field which will also be available to the Paris Little League when not in use by the Challengers, Colvin said.
Creating a field from scratch is no easy feat, Colvin admitted. “It’s expensive,” he said. It’s likely the project will be completed in stages, he said, with the first stage being the field, dugouts and fences.
The long range plans are for the field to have an accessible bathroom as well as its own concession stand.
“We’re thrilled to have the opportunity to continue to grow this league and give it a permanent home,” Colvin said.
It’s expected the entire project will total $175,000 with $75,000 for the first phase alone.
“We’re going to do it right,” he said.
Colvin said when the idea of the Challenger League was brought to him by Amanda Minor, “I never dreamed it would grown into what we have today,” he said.
There are currently four teams — NAL, Terry Elston State Farm, Elks and the newest team, Ingrum Waste.
There is already a need for a fifth team, he said, which costs $750. “We provide everything for the players,” he said, including uniform, glove, bat and bag. The players keep everything and also receive a special all-star shirt, a trophy and a poster picture of themselves. Those pictures lined the driveway of the Paris American Legion Wednesday.
The all-star game includes concessions with Dave Morris doing all the cooking, Colvin said. A hog was donated for a raffle and 1,800 tickets were sold. “They went so fast we couldn’t keep up,” Colvin said. “That’s the kind of community we live in.”
Players are not only from Paris and Edgar County but come from Marshall, Casey, Charleston and Mattoon.
Volunteers are what makes the league successful — including the celebrity buddies who help out at least one game a year.
The Paris High School baseball team serve as buddies along with the Okaw Valley baseball team, Colvin noted. “Last year we went to their place to play and this year they were here,” he said. “They are committed to volunteering and bringing baseball to the kids.”
Other “celebrity” buddies include local banks. the Paris High Schoo football team and boys and girls basketball team. “The coaches realize it’s a learning experience for their players, too,” Colvin said.
Colvin said work on the Challenger Field has been in the process for the past six months.
“It’s a dream come true,” he said. The league is preparing grant applications.
The officers for the league include Colvin, president; Amanda Minor, vice-president, Lindsey Wilson, secretary; and Renee Blumthal, treasurer.