CORAL SPRINGS, FL - Randy Hibschman couldn’t have envisioned that 30 years after he started as a coach in the Challenger Baseball League that he would still be overseeing a program that features 225 special needs baseball players.
“It is really a lot of fun,” said the Coral Springs resident who started in 1990 as a coach and took over running the program for special needs athletes age 5 and up. “The kids enjoy, and they get to high-five their teammates."
For Hibschman, the best part is seeing the youth build up their self-esteem.
“They're actually on the baseball field hitting, catching, going around the bases and having the crowd cheer for them,” he said.
The Challenger program features 12 teams. Coral Springs leads the way with four teams with Pembroke Pines close behind with three. They just added a new senior team. Parkland added a team this year and Margate, Tamarac, Sunrise, and Weston all have teams.
The program is for children, ages 5 through 18, with physical and mental disabilities. However, players won't be kicked out of the league when they turn 18 if they are still enrolled in a school program.
The Challenger Division players suit up on Sunday afternoons from late February until mid-May and travel around the county for their games. The Challenger program also allows for able-bodied volunteers, known as buddies, to play with the athletes by helping them run bases or hit a ball, but only if the Challenger player needs it.
The league makes sure the disabled athletes participate as much as possible, Hibschman said.
Coming up: April 4 is a Challenger Festival, East/West Challenge, which will feature 120 players from the local Challenger League and members of the Fort Myers Challenger League. There will be two, 1-inning games.
“There will be a BBQ lunch, ice cream and medals for all of the participants,” said Randy Hibschman’s wife, Debbie, who is also involved in running the league. The event is free to families because of sponsors.
She said: “The kids really enjoy playing kids from another league. It gives them a chance to meet new families and make new friendships.”
Randy Hibshman said the league is making a huge difference for youth and their families.
“It's their chance to be the center of attention for their accomplishments, and they get to do it being surrounded by their friends on the field,” he said.
Learn more about Challenger Baseball League here.