Little League Baseball established the Challenger Division in 1989 as a separate division to enable boys and girls with physical and mental challenges, ages 4 through 18, or up to age 22 if still enrolled in high school, to enjoy the game of baseball along with the estimated 5 million other children who participate in this sport worldwide. This program was expanded in 2015 to include all people with disabilities regardless of age.
Similarly, in 1999, the Miracle League was officially formed to offer children with disabilities the opportunity to play America’s favorite pastime, and the first Miracle Field opened in 2000 in Rockdale County, Georgia. Today, more than 30,000 children participate in more than 900 Challenger Divisions and 200,000 children play in 270 Miracle Leagues across the United States as well as in Australia, Canada and Puerto Rico.
New York’s District 4 Little League, which encompasses 16 leagues in Rochester and nearby suburbs, has nearly 8,000 players ages 4 through 18 playing in Baseball, Softball and Challenger programs in Monroe County and selected nearby towns including Victor and Macedon. Challenger baseball was first offered locally in Fairport in 1990, with the Greece Little League following in 1995, and the Webster Athletic Association starting a program of its own in 2001. Today there are nine Challenger Leagues in the Greater Rochester region, with ore than 400 children and young adults participating annually.
Participants’ diagnoses range from commonly known conditions such as autism, Asperger’s syndrome, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome and diabetes to rare occurrences of conditions such as Prader-Willi Syndrome and Apert Syndrome. More than 10 percent of Challenger players use adaptive equipment such as gait trainers or wheelchairs.