By Ashley Ferraro
Challenger Baseball has been thriving in Broward County for 30 years and has recently expanded its league to Parkland. A division of Little League, Challenger is an adaptive baseball program open to all children and adults with special needs. Although last year’s season was cut short due to COVID-19, the 2021 season is kicking off.
When Melissa Sackman, alongside Paul Rosenberg, and Sam Troy, saw an opportunity to bring the league to Parkland, they didn’t hesitate to get it organized. “The idea behind Challenger is to provide socialization and give the players a sense of normalcy,” says Melissa. The league implements buddies, who are volunteers that actively help the players on the field. This way, if parents choose to, they can relax in the stands and cheer their children on while they play.
“It’s a great opportunity for the families of these children and adults to come together and be with other families who have similar circumstances,” adds Mellissa. “It’s a chance for the parents to have a break and to be able to sit in the stands as a normal parent and just let go for an hour.”
Something unique to the Parkland league is its affiliations with the MLB. Thanks to their relationship with the Rizzo Family Foundation, Anthony Rizzo’s dad, John Rizzo, acts as one of the coaches for Challenger Baseball.
Another MSD alumni and starting pitcher for the Oakland Athletics, Jesus Luzardo, has ties to the league. His father, Jesus Luzardo Sr., is also a baseball coach for the Parkland league. “That’s a really cool addition that we’ve been fortunate to have here in Parkland,” adds Melissa.
Coral Springs resident Randy Hibshman and his wife, Debbie Hibshman, have been running the organization since it’s early days. Challenger Baseball has leagues throughout Broward County, and in 2020 it finally expanded to Parkland. Challenger is privately funded, so there is never a cost to the players and their families. Every expense, including registration, uniforms, pictures, trophies, and equipment, is covered by the league.
“The people in Parkland—Melissa, Paul, Sam, and our coaches—have really done a wonderful job of getting the community involved,” says Hibshman. “This year, when Parkland had their Turkey Bowl, they donated money to Challenger.”
The Parkland Challenger Baseball league plays at Pine Trails Park. The games run for an hour and fifteen minutes, allowing each team to play a full inning. This way, every player gets one at-bat and one chance to play in the field. Plus, there are no outs, so players have the opportunity to run around all the bases during every game.
The vision behind Challenger Baseball is to allow children and adults with special needs to have fun, interact with one another, and be a part of Little League like their peers. Parents can register their players at no cost for Parkland Challenger Baseball online at www.challengerbaseballofbroward.com. The season will run through the end of May, and players can join at any time.