By Ashley Ferraro
Challenger Baseball has been thriving in Broward County for over 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 young adults with special needs. Although the last 2 seasons were effected by Covid the 2022 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 along with coaches, who are volunteers that actively help the players on the field. This way, if parents choose to, they can relax in the stands and just 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 Miami Marlins, Jesus Luzardo, is now a Challenger sponsor. His father, Jesus Luzardo Sr., is also a baseball coach for the Parkland team. “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 teamsthroughout Broward County, and in 2020 it finally expanded to Parkland. Thanks to private sponsors there is no cost to the players and their families. Every expense, including registration, uniforms, pictures, trophies, equipment, season opening and closing parties,, A Ft Myers festival and challenger day at a Marlin’s game are 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 Randy.
The Parkland Challenger baseball team plays their home games at Pine Trails Park on Sunday afternoons from February 27th through May 15th. The games run for around an hour and fifteen minutes, allowing each team to play 2 full innings. Every player gets to hit, field and get around the bases with whatever help they need thanks to their coaches and buddies.
The vision behind Challenger Baseball is to allow all children and young adults with special needs to have fun, interact with one another, and be a part of a team just like their peers. Parents can register their players at no cost for Parkland Challenger Baseball online at www.challengerbaseballofbroward.com. Season runs February through May 15th.