Playing ball in a special way

First Posted: 7/28/2014

One by one, members of the Back Mountain All-Star Little League showed up at the Back Mountain Little League field, preparing to help their friends from the Wyoming Vally Challenger Little League team.

Soon after, the Challengers themselves began arriving – some wearing red shirts, others wearing blue.

Once everyone had arrived, the Challengers players and All-Stars took the field, along with the parents of the Challengers, ready to play baseball.

Challenger Little League is for those with physical and mental disabilities who like to play baseball.

Challenger President David Howell, in his 17th year at the league’s helm, said it’s all about giving those a chance who may never have the chance to play baseball due to their disabilities.

“Challenger Little League is made up of kids and young adults ages5 to 21,” Howell said. “We adapated Little League games, so that those who may not get the chance to enjoy Litte League can get to enjoy it.”

Concluding its 21st season, the Challenger Little League was established in Pittston Township in 1993. The Victory Baseball League, in association with Challenger, is still located in Pittston Township, is for those players who reach the age of 21 and wish to continue playing baseball.

According to Howell, the eague has signups beginning in February and the players are then separated into two teams.

The Challenger players have no home field of their own, so they play on Little League fields mostly in the Pittston and Dallas areas. They also play in Tunkhannock and at King’s College in Wilkes-Barre.

The Back Mountain All-Star Little League has worked with Challenger players since the beginning of the Challenger league 21 years ago.

“When Challenger was started, the Back Mountain Little League came to them asked if they would come out and bring the kids out,” said David. “As time went on, we continued to do this program and it’s been bigger and better every year.”

The Back Mountain All-Stars assist the Challengers in all aspects of the game, including running, hitting and throwing.

Jessica Matushek, vice-president of publicity for the All-Stars, said the All-Stars like to host the Challenger players once a year and do whatever they can to support them.

“We like to host this game once a year and do what we can for the kids,” said Matushek. “It’s an amazing game to see and we really like to support them.”

Matushek said the All-Star kids have just as much fun helping the Challenger players as the Challenger players do participating.

“They like to watch this game,” said Matushek. “It’ll be a good experience. They’re going to be here to help out and do what they can to assist the players on the field.”

The two teams played two innings, with no outs and everybody swung the bat until they made contact with the ball. They always got on base and the inning did not end until everyone on the team scored.

The final score was 23-23, making everyone a winner.

Andrea Vomero was there to assist and cheer on her 10-year-old son Alex.

It was Alex’s first year in Challenger and Vomero said it was fun for him and their whole family. She anticpate he will sign up again next year.

Vomero could not have been happier, saying she loved watching her son get the chance to run around, have fun and just be a kid.

“It makes him feel special,” said Vomero. “It makes me feel really good. Usually, we go out there on the field with the kids, so we can help them. It’s really nice because it’s hard for him to be in any other sports because he doesn’t understand the rules. At least in this, there are no rules so everyone gets to bat and everyone’s treated as an equal. It’s really nice.”

As the Challenger career of Alex was only just beginning, one Challengers career was ending.

Brandon Howell, 21, son of David Howell and a Challenger player since he was 5 years old, played his last game.

An emotional David gave a speech prior to the game’s conclusion, showing his appreciation for his son, saying, “There will never be another player like him.”

Brandon’s teammates were asked to go to the opposite end of the field while he was granted three attempts to hit a ball out of the park.

Unfortunately, none went over, but that did not stop his teammates and those in attendance from giving him a standing ovation.

Brandon then waved goodbye, displaying his gratitude to Challenger Little League because the people involved with it are more than just a team to him, they are a family.

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