By Jill Fox
Serving special-needs children, a nonprofit, volunteer-based, free baseball program will soon be coming to Parkland.
When Challenger Baseball began in Broward County back in 1990, there were just 25 to 30 players. Since then, the program has grown to over 200 participants with teams located in Coral Springs, Tamarac, Margate, Sunrise, Weston, Pembroke Pines — and now Parkland.
“We thought it would be a welcome addition to Parkland,” said Sam Troy, who has been actively involved with various Parkland recreational sports. He approached the city asking for a baseball program for children with special needs, and when he learned that Challenger Baseball already existed, he thought it would be a perfect fit for the family-oriented community.
“I love working in sports, and I’ve always had a passion for working with kids with special needs and bringing sports to them, so I thought this was a great opportunity,” said Troy.
Challenger Baseball is for special-needs children of all ages. Randy Hibshman of Coral Springs, who has run the program for the last 25 years, first began as a coach. He said the program was perfect for his 10-year-old son, Danny who is now 38 and still playing in a senior group.
“There was no other program with this kind of non-competitive environment,” said Hibshman, “Everybody can play, if they need help swinging the bat, if they need to be pushed around the bases in their wheelchair — everybody does everything, and whatever they need us to do, we do.”
Each team has its own home field; however, they will travel to other locations, making it a little bit different than other programs, like Parkland Buddy Sports.
Thanks to private sponsors in each city, like the Kiwanis and Rotary Clubs, and sometimes, the cities themselves, Challenger Baseball provides everything at no charge for the families including uniforms, equipment, team photos, trophies, and even attending an end-of-season festival in Fort Myers.
“The families stay in a hotel, play baseball, have lunch, it’s a great bonding experience for the kids,” said Hibshman, “It really helps their self-esteem when they’re part of a team.”
Bringing Challenger Baseball to Parkland has been a team effort. Troy enlisted his good friend and coaching partner, Paul Rosenberg to help with logistics, as well as Parks and Recreation board member, Melissa Sackman to assist on the city side. Together with Hibshman, they were able to get the city to approve the program—a division of little league. Organizers are aiming to hold the games at Terramar Park so they can utilize the tower for music to make it entertaining and relaxing for the parents.
“One of the best things about this program, and something people don’t think about is the benefit to the parents of these children, who get this hands-off hour and a half break where volunteer coaches are caring for their kids,” said Troy.
The Challenger Baseball season will run from the end of February through May.