Saturday is a big day for Jordan Ball.
“He has a (baseball) game on Saturday, and we talk about it through the week,” said Jordan’s mother, Sarah Ball. “He gets excited.”
Jordan plays in the Challenger division of Anderson County Little League, a division for children ages 5-20 with special needs who are in school.
“He likes it,” Sarah Ball said. “He’s happiest at bat when everyone is cheering for him. In the outfield he’s not as happy and sometimes says he wants to go home.
“The announcer really gets into it, cheering ‘Here we go, Jordan, here we go.’ It makes him feel special, and he gets excited.”
The Challenger Division, which started in 2010, completed its third season last Saturday. The division has an eight-week season with one game a week on Saturdays in Lawrenceburg.
Jordan, 7, is one of two participants from Frankfort. This year the league had two teams – the Mets and the Angels – with players from Anderson, Franklin, Mercer and Washington counties.
It is one of just two Challenger leagues in the state affiliated with Little League baseball, the other being in Ashland. Anderson County Little League, Inc. is a non-profit organization chartered to Little League International.
Brandon Quinn of Frankfort has seen what the program has done for his son Cameron, 8, a first-year participant.
“He loved it,” Brandon said. “He definitely learned to play with others and got to play outside, stuff like that.
“He doesn’t get to play a lot of times. He does therapy, but he doesn’t get to play with that many kids at once, to interact.”
That’s one of the biggest benefits of the Challenger Division.
Jamie Bentley’s daughter Olivia, 12, has been in the league since it started two years ago.
“She can get out and be involved in something other kids are involved in that otherwise she might not have a chance,” said Jamie, of Lawrenceburg.
“She can get out and do things other kids do, and she has a great time. She loves it. She gets really excited about having a game, getting to run, hit the ball.”
The Challenger Division begins its season on opening day for Anderson County Little League.
“We’ll have 1,500 people at the park,” said commissoner Bart Lewis. “There are athletes, coaches, parents all there, and local dignitaries. They introduce all the kids on all the teams. We invite everyone to stay and watch the Challengers’ game. It showcases them and that’s what we like to do, put them in the spotlight.
“They play the first game to kick off the season.”
Over the years the schedule has been tweaked to accommodate the players.
“The first year we played at noon every Saturday, and that wasn’t a good idea,” Lewis said. “We started out doing that so we could have a consistent schedule, but when you get to May and June it’s hot, and for some of the participants it’s hard to handle the heat.
“Last Saturday we played at 8 p.m. They had never played under the lights before.”
The division’s co-commissioner is T.J. Taylor.
A key component of the games is the buddy program. Each week a different group – including businesses, athletic teams and organizations – volunteers to be buddies for the teams, and each player has a buddy.
“They go with them in the dugout, get their bats,” Lewis said. “They’ll push their wheelchairs if they need that, or hold their hands as they run the bases.
“On defense they’re out there for safety. Some of the kids can hit the ball pretty hard, but the buddy may knock it down and let the defensive player pick it up and throw to the right bases.”
The buddies also give the parents a chance to watch their children at play.
“If they have enough helpers I stay in the stands,” Sarah Ball said. “I don’t know a lot about baseball.
“It’s really good for the volunteers,” she added, “and it’s amazing watching them help. A lot of people may not have people in their families with special needs.
“It takes a special person to work with special needs kids, and I really appreciate all the volunteers who come out and help so we can watch and enjoy ourselves.”
That’s been just one of the pluses of the buddy program.
“When we first started we needed the buddies to help us with kids who can’t do some of this on their own,” Lewis said. “It would help the Challenger kids, who would get a blessing from it.
“That first week it hit me square in the face the ones who are most blessed are the ones who are helping.”
“I think it’s good for the volunteers,” Bentley said. “It’s a chance for people with the buddy system to be around kids they may not be exposed to otherwise.”
There is no registration fee for players in the Challenger Division. Various grants have paid for uniforms and equipment.
This year there are plans for the Challengers players to take a trip to Cincinnati in July to catch a Reds game. It’s the first time the division has done anything outside of playing games.
More information on the division is available at the websites www.littleleague.org or www.aclittleleague.com. The local program has room to expand, and those interested should check the Anderson County Little League website in February for signup information for the 2013 season.
Ball, Quinn and Bentley all say their children will be playing in the league again next year.
“This provides an opportunity for our kids with special needs,” Ball said.