Challenger Baseball was established by Little League 25 years ago to give children with physical and cognitive challenges access to the game. Players are paired with able-bodied volunteer buddies in the field and at ba,t so all children can play "in a league, on a team, in uniform," says Kris Gustavson, coordinator for the Challenger Division of Little Mountain Baseball.
"It's a fabulous opportunity."
Little Mountain Baseball currently has over 760 players, 23 of whom play in the Challenger Division. The baseball field they share at Hillcrest Park presents a number of challenges to the Challenger League, says Gustavson. The dugouts are too narrow to accommodate wheelchairs, which can expose players to flying balls.
"As well, we want all children to feel like they're part of the team and the dugout milieu," she notes.
And, right now, at sunset, the light shines directly in the batters' eyes which, Gustavson says, presents a safety issue for both Challenger and regular baseball players. And the spring rains can render the infield paths too muddy to safely navigate in a wheelchair.
The proposed new facility would change the orientation of the field to cut down glare and allow smoother access for wheelchairs. It would also include wider, wheelchair-accessible dugouts and synthetic infield to better resist erosion from the elements, which improves safety for all players, says Gustavson.
According to Vancouver Park Board documents the Challenger Baseball facility is budgeted at $286,000 dollars, with $30,000 coming from the Vancouver Canadians baseball team, whose headquarters are located just south of the field.
It's part of larger package of proposed sport field upgrades which the Vancouver Park Board will vote on at the June 9 meeting. Under the proposal, 10 parks across the city will see improvements that range from new washrooms to field house renovations at a cost of $3-million. The majority of the money will come from the city's 2013 Emerging Priorities Fund, with $205,000 coming from four local sport partners, including the contribution from the Vancouver Canadians. The $3-million was approved in the 2013 capital budget.
The proposal is expected to pass. Gustavson says the new field would have a huge impact on the Challenger Baseball community, which includes over 1000 children in 16 divisions across British Columbia.
"This would mean the world to them...it's an amazing opportunity."