Ryan and Shalyn Pinkham never envisioned their young daughter having an opportunity to experience a popular summer sport.
A new program in Summerside has changed that. Now six-year-old Rory is “really motivated” to get to the field each week to participate in Challenger Baseball.
“I never thought, as her mother, I would see her on the ball diamond,” said Shalyn. “We have friends in other provinces, and in the (United) States, that have had the opportunity to participate in this program. When I heard it was coming to Summerside I was thrilled.”
Inclusion, participation and having fun are stressed each week.
“Challenger Baseball is an adaptive program for children living with physical and cognitive disabilities,” said Toronto Blue Jays Care Foundation manager of marketing and communications Ben Sibley during the first-ever P.E.I. provincial jamboree at Queen Elizabeth Park (QEP) in Summerside recently. “Essentially, it takes the game of baseball and adapts it for kids of all abilities, so everybody has the chance to play.
“Everybody is welcome for a Challenger Baseball game.”
Shawn Adams has been working for three years to bring the program to Summerside. Challenger Baseball is run in partnership with the Jays Care Foundation, Little League Canada and Baseball Canada.
“What this program does is it essentially gives kids an opportunity to play on the same field that everybody else does,” said Adams. “At the end of the day, the game is just a game, but I get just as much out of it (as the athletes).”
The atmosphere is lively, and every play is cheered. Players are introduced over the public-address system as they come to bat and Adams conducts interviews throughout the game, providing an opportunity for athletes to comment on their performances, especially home runs. “Buddies” are minor baseball players from Summerside, friends and family of the athletes and they provide any required encouragement and assistance, such as swinging, running the bases and throwing.
“When are these kids going to get a chance to play baseball?” asked Ryan Pinkham. “Every kid hits a home run, everybody is smiling and gets cheered for.
“You can’t do anything wrong. It makes me happy.”
Ryan, who also serves as a buddy, and Shalyn both praised the efforts of the young volunteers.
“The buddies are such an integral part of the program and Rory’s buddies (especially Caleb Adams and Jackson Ramsay) have been exceptional,” said Shalyn. “I’m so proud of how attuned they are to the athletes’ specific and diverse needs.”
Ryan added: “It’s not only good for Rory, but the kids who are looking after her, the buddies. We obviously could not do it without them.
“There was nothing like this when we were younger, so to see everybody is included, times are changing for the better.”
More than home runs
Five-year-old Jett Oatway likes hitting home runs and running the bases, but that’s not his favourite part.
“I like announcing,” said Jett, who was interviewed during the provincial jamboree and introduced fellow athletes coming to bat. Jett also added he was looking forward to the post-jamboree pizza party.
The Summerside program takes place at QEP every Wednesday from 4 to 5:30 p.m. Adams stressed new participants are always welcome and encouraged to attend.
“The first night we had four athletes and July 17 we had 15 and there were also 15 buddies,” said Adams. “As much as the program is designed for kids with disabilities, whether it be physical or cognitive, there is a lot of value for the kids who come out to help.”
An example of how Challenger Baseball has grown nationally, Sibley noted the Blue Jays are hosting a national Challenger Baseball Jamboree at Rogers Centre on Friday.
“Two years ago, Jays Care took on a leadership role with the Challenger Baseball program and it’s really because the organization believes it is important that every kid across the country has the chance to experience the game of baseball and to play,” said Sibley. “You come out and see events like this all across the country and that’s why it is so special because the Jays are Canada’s team.”
How athletes benefit from participating in Challenger Baseball:
- Self-esteem and self-awareness.
- Relationships to peers.
- Connection to positive role models.
- Courage to try new challenges.
- Likelihood of living a physical active life.
- Baseball and physical literacy skills.