Isabelle Honing

Isabelle Honing

All the fun of ball, without the strikes

When the new Little League baseball season starts in White Rock Saturday, it will include a brand new division, thanks to a young clothing store manager, 22 excited players and their buddies.

This will be White Rock’s first year with a Challenger Baseball Division – a league for children with cognitive or physical disabilities to play the game under one-on-one supervision of able-bodied “buddies,” where fun and excitement trump scorekeeping and strikeouts.

“There’s no three-strikes-you’re-out, or anything like that. Everyone hits the ball and gets to run the bases,” says Paige McLean, co-ordinator for the White Rock Challenger Division.

Paige’s father, Ian McLean, started Challenger in B.C. in 1992 and currently serves as the provincial co-ordinator.

“My dad told me we really want to expand, and I said White Rock really needs something like this. He said it’s a lot of work to get it started but I told him I’m willing to do it,” said McLean, who also works full-time managing a clothing store when she’s not on the field.

Spreading the word about Challenger, registering kids and buddies, signing up sponsors and gathering equipment and uniforms has been a daunting task, McLean admits, but a rewarding one, too.

“Going into it I thought, ‘oh yeah I’ll just put together a baseball team and that will be that,’ but there’s so much that goes into it,” she says, adding that she currently has “no living room” in her apartment because it’s filled with boxes of Challenger gear.

“Being only 21, it’s been kind of a scary thing getting it set up, but it’s been an incredible learning experience and I’ve met so many incredible people.”

Some of her passion for the cause comes from her own family’s experience raising children with disabilities.

“My cousin had autism and I just think my aunt and uncle are the most incredible people. He passed away in his 20s, and those parents (of children with disabilities) just have so much more to deal with so whatever I can do to help them is not a big deal to me at all.

“The fact that I lose sleep and every bit of my spare time is occupied by this, I don’t care at all.”

White Rock Challenger’s two teams – the Cardinals and Blue Jays – are made up of 22 players. They met at Bakerview Park last Saturday for the new division’s first official game day.

Next up is the annual Little League opening day parade and celebration at South Surrey Athletic Park April 16.

“We’ve been asked to be a part of it, and that I speak at the season opener, which I’m totally nervous about, but I’m sure it will be fine,” laughed McLean.

The Challenger teams will meet for games at 10 a.m. every Saturday at Bakerview until June 11, when all 14 divisions in B.C. will meet in Vancouver for the year end jamboree.

For more information on the Challenger Baseball Little League, go to www.challengerbaseballbc.com or email Paige McLean at paige.madison@hotmail.com