POULSBO — One of the most exciting moments Cathleen Taylor has witnessed so far in her grandson’s life took place on the baseball diamond.
The North Kitsap High School baseball program’s C-team had bases loaded, with two outs, against North Mason. It was one of the last games of the 2011-12 season.
Taylor’s grandson, Joseph, stepped up to the plate. And with the crack of the bat, Joseph hit the ball, earning an RBI before being tagged out at first.
For Joseph, 15, a special education student, and the rest of those in attendance, it was a big moment.
“Everyone there was cheering and clapping,” Taylor said. “It was the most wonderful experience for my grandson I had ever seen.”
Joseph had honed his baseball skills in the North Kitsap Little League Challenger Division. The division team is for people ages 5 to 18. Enrolled participants must be enrolled in a special education program to qualify.
The current division is in its fifth year.
Before joining, Taylor, the challenger coordinator, said her grandson had few friends. Now that he’s playing sports, he has plenty, she said.
The Challenger Division, which is free, will hold two-inning games on Saturday mornings from April to May. The division opens with the rest of baseball at Snider Park April 8.
Other teams from North Kitsap Little League join the Challenger games. Players from volunteer teams are paired up with Challenger players. Volunteer players help with baseball fundamentals and, when needed, offer reassurance, Taylor said.
Coaches are already signing up their teams to participate this season.
Aaron Fishel, coach and Major and AAA baseball coordinator, has his name on the list to bring his team out for a game. And that’s before Fishel has even named the team.
Fishel and his Machine Pitch baseball teams volunteered in the Challenger Division a few times last season. Though his team of 8- and 9-year-olds were on the younger side of players that normally volunteer, he said it made for “a wonderful experience.” All the players who volunteered asked if they could do it again, he said. The players, especially at that age, make instant friends.
Though the Challenger games are just two innings, “it makes an impression,” Fishel said.
During the games, nobody is called out; everybody gets a chance to score a run.
The games foster self-esteem, and help participants learn the disciplines of teamwork and sportsmanship, Taylor said. She said learning the game and socializing helps increase mental capabilities.
To register for the Challenger Division, visit www.nkll.com and click on the “registration” link. For questions, email firstname.lastname@example.org or “like” the program on Facebook.
The division is part of a nationwide program for Little League Baseball.
Typically, the season is about six games. But it could vary, Taylor said, depending on how much enthusiasm there is.