The North Delta Challenger Baseball program hosted some very special guests last weekend.
On Sunday, May 29, several members of the Jays Care Foundation — an affiliate with the Toronto Blue Jays — came out to the Dennis Elsom Field at North Delta Community Park to play some games and teach baseball skills to the Challenger athletes.
The Jays’ Care Foundation supports play-based baseball programs for disadvantaged youth across Canada through financial support, leadership training programs, provision of equipment and supplies, and scholarships for participants and volunteers, according to a press release. Foundation resources are directed toward specialized programming for girls, inner city youth, Indigenous youth, and youth with disabilities.
“We’re always so thankful to Jays Care for supporting our program with resources, and having some of their team join us in North Delta was another huge gift,” Challenger program co-ordinator Sheryl Gray said.
“As a community volunteer, I’m happy for the support and extra ideas, and as a parent of one of the players, I really appreciate the reminder that Challenger is bigger than North Delta — it runs across Canada and is a much-loved program beyond our own community. We’re truly a part of a very special movement to include.”
Challenger Baseball is a national adaptive baseball program that offers opportunities for children and youth to participate in the sport within their own ability and comfort level with the support of on-field volunteers, while parents and guardians watch, cheer and get to know each other from the bleachers, just as with typical sports leagues.
The North Delta program’s 30 youth participants range in age from four to 17 and have various developmental, physical, intellectual and psycho-social challenges including Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, autism spectrum disorder and fetal alcohol syndrome.
More than 20 volunteer buddies — made up of local teenagers, university students and some education assistants — support the players on the field with encouragement, demonstrations, physical assistance and adapting activities.
“Programs such as Challenger Baseball and Jays Care are fundamental for children to have in their hometown. To be a witness to a Challenger Baseball session, especially one as unique as this one, was a real treat. The athletes are happy, the parents are happy and the volunteers are happy,” said Challenger volunteer buddy Emily Bancroft.
At Sunday’s event, the athletes practiced their throwing, batting and running skills in a supportive environment with the help of Jays Care team members led by program specialist (inclusive programs) Rachel MacDonald.There were big and colourful easy-to-read posters for target practice, squishy bases to run to and jump on, and engaging high-energy warm-up activities.
“It was a lot of fun throwing the balls to the colour circles,” said Ciara, one of the Challenger players.
“I loved all the energy the Jays Care people brought with them. All the kids were laughing and having so much fun,” Challenger volunteer buddy Lexie Fehr said.
North Delta Challenger Baseball is wrapping up its season later this month (June 19), but many participants will be back this fall to take part in the indoor Adaptive Multi-Sport Program (AMP), a joint venture of the North Delta Baseball Association and North Delta FC with support from the City of Delta.
Launched last year, AMP is a fun participation-based program designed specifically for children and youth with disabilities that focuses on team sports skills — without placing kids on teams. Participants can choose their preferred activities and stations from options including soccer, badminton, basketball and other sports, with support by coaches and one-on-one volunteers while parents and caregivers cheer on from the sidelines.
Building on that successful first season, the program will return to the North Delta Recreation Centre for fall/winter 2022-2023, with registration set to open at the end of July. For more information, visit northdeltafc.com/amp or email email@example.com.