At first, Ledell Kendall was reluctant to sign her son up for Langley Baseball’s Challenger Baseball program.
Since the program incorporates kids of all ages to play on one team, she wasn’t sure how her son, Francis, would react.
Francis has autism, and moebius syndrome, a rare neurological disorder which leaves those with the condition unable to make any facial movements or move their eyes, as well as affecting their vision.
But she signed him up.
“We knew that he lacked the fine and gross motor skills to do regular baseball,” she explained.
“We were looking for something he could do, which was a typical sport, but still be safe.
“And something that was fun and not competitive.”
So Ledell and her husband Adam signed him up for Challenger Baseball.
Challenger Baseball is for children and youth who have cognitive or physical disabilities. The program allows them to play the sport in a non-competitive environment. Each player is assisted by a ‘buddy’ who assists them on the field.
It allows the players a chance to enjoy the full benefits of the sport, but structured to their abilities.
This was four years ago, and Francis, now 9, loves playing the sport.
Francis’ favourite position is back-catcher, he says, explaining that without him standing behind home plate, there would be no one to throw the ball back to the pitcher.
The Kendalls are happy too.
“He was very excited, especially when he got to wear a uniform,” Ledell said.
They love what being in some semblance of an organized sport does for their son.
“It improved his social skills because he is able to talk to his friends about baseball,” she said.
“And it improved his running, his attention span, everything.
“It helped him mature and grown so he is more in line with his peers.”
“For Francis, because of his condition, it provides structure and rules that he has to abide by,” said Adam.
“Making him keep up with the responsibilities.”
The Kendall’s would recommend other families to sign their children up.
“Some people think with Challenger baseball, you have to be in a wheelchair, or missing a limb,” Ledell said.
“It is if you are unable to cope with a regular baseball team. It allows everybody to participate because it is inclusive.”
A few weeks ago (June 23), Langley’s City Park hosted the Challenger Baseball Jamboree, with a couple of hundred of kids taking part.
This was the biggest Challenger provincial event to date.
And work is underway for even bigger and better things.
Thanks to the efforts of the four local Rotary clubs — Rotary Club of Langley Central, Rotary Club of Langley, Rotary Club of Langley Sunrise and the Aldergrove Rotary Club — work is underway to create a Miracle Field.
The permanent field will be designed specifically for kids with disabilities and will cost between $300,000 and $400,000 to complete.
Between the two local baseball organizations that offer Challenger Baseball — Langley Baseball and North Langley Diamond Sports — there are currently about 50 to 60 players in the program.
The potential site of the Miracle Field is Milner Park. The field would be switched to artificial turf, and be made wheelchair accessible.
“Nothing sticking up, nothing for the kids to trip over,” explained Langley Baseball’s Dan McLaren, who was approached by the Rotary clubs about the project.
“We are well underway,” said Mike Brown, the past-president of the Rotary Club of Langley Central, who is spearheading the project.
“We are coming along, it is just a matter of getting things moving; there is so much you have to get in place.”
Construction on the first Miracle League Field began in 1999 and there are now 250 Miracle League organizations across the United States. There is also one in Australia and one in Canada, back east in Ontario.
Brown said the goal is to have the Langley field completed within the next two years.
David Leavers, the Township of Langley’s director of recreation, culture and parks, confirmed that the Township has been approached about using Milner Park as the site of the field.