Samardzija Field at Tower Park bustled with activity on Sunday as Valpo Parks and Hannah’s Hope hosted the second week of Challenger Baseball. As a coed program for ages 5 to 22, the league partners special needs participants with volunteer buddies in a modified, relaxed game of baseball.
Challenger baseball is a popular program across the country, and some communities around the Region have their own versions. Valpo Parks saw the success and wanted to use the new and accessible Samardzija Field to create their own league. They drafted their idea and reached out to Hannah’s Hope, a nonprofit that provides developmental equipment to kids with special needs and strives to make communities more accessible, who jumped in as the league’s exclusive sponsor.
“There was nothing available for Valpo kids that needed a special league to play in,” said Lisa Hutton, Youth Recreation Director for Valpo Parks. “This is truly an amazing event. We’re grateful to be able to provide something like this to our community.”
Participants included 16 kids and their families who signed up along with 15 volunteers. The buddies play catch with their partners, and help them run the bases or figure out their swings. Some volunteers came from the families of the participants, while others were simply looking to help out. Jason Petre volunteered to help his son, Lucas.
“We’ve done the Portage league for the past three or four years, but we live in Valpo so it’s nice to have this right in our hometown,” Petre said. “This is great;my son is often left out of things because he doesn’t have the same abilities. This puts him on an even playing field and he absolutely loves it. I’m so happy Valpo Parks decided to do this, it’s great for the community.”
Mike and Mary Martinez, founders of Hannah’s Hope, came out on Sunday to take part in the fun.
“This is exactly what our mission states, which is to help every kid reach their fullest potential,” said Mike Martinez. “I’m sure that somewhere along the line there were parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, who thought that there would never be an opportunity for their son or daughter to get out on the field and play. For Valpo Parks to get out here and give that opportunity to these kids is a great thing.”
Tracy Ruiz cheered for her son, Ethan, along the foul lines as he made his way around the bases.
“He’s so excited, since he plays at a slower pace this is one of the only ways he can participate in a sport like this,” Ruiz said. “He just got his shirt, hat, and glove and went out there. He’s ready to go.”
John Seibert, Director of Valpo Parks, also joined in on the festivities and noted how important the parks department’s frequent partnership with Hannah’s Hope is for the community.
“It’s a partnership where we work together to help out kids of all ability levels,” Seibert said. “It’s a mutual benefit where we both learn from each other, and the community as a whole benefits greatly in the long term. We just hope that this continues to grow for our community and for the Region as a whole.”