It's a pastime in which every American child wants to take part: little league baseball.
In Central New York, kids have a plethora of options, from Seneca River North Little League to school- and town-sponsored programs to pickup games. And kids with special needs are no exception.
Kids with disabilities in the Liverpool area can play on the Syracuse Challengers, a special needs little league program sponsored by District 8 Little League. Challengers baseball offers a lax environment in which kids with special needs can learn the game without pressure; each child bats until he or she gets a hit, there are no outs and no runs and kids play two innings each game.
The popularity of Challengers is skyrocketing, according to Program Director Dom Cambareri, whose son plays on one of the Challengers' eight teams.
"The program is exploding," Cambareri said. "This year we have 130 children, up from 113 last year. We have a waiting list of 15 to 20 kids. It's just huge."
Since the Challengers don't have a field of their own on which to play, the kids share time with area little league teams on fields in Salina, Mattydale, Lyncourt and Eastwood. Several changes have taken place this year, including the establishment of a senior division for older and more talented players and the purchase of new jerseys featuring each player's name and number.
The league has grown exponentially from its beginnings as a tiny pickup program for kids with disabilities in Eastwood.
"It was really one of the first programs in the country," said Deputy Program Director Dee Perkins of Liverpool, whose son Taylor plays in the senior division. "A group of really dedicated parents in Eastwood started it. It was completely parent-driven."
The program began about 25 years ago at the behest of Eastwood resident Skip Soule and several other parents of special needs children.