HENRICO COUNTY, Va. -- On any given day of the entire year, there's a good chance you will find children somewhere at the Tuckahoe Little League complex working on their skills in our national pastime.
But on one particular day, one corner field comes alive with more life, excitement and achievement than any other.
Thanks to a partnership between Tuckahoe Little League, Henrico Schools, the county's parks and recreation department and Capital One, the Challenger League gives over 300 kids an opportunity they don't get anywhere else.
"It's a chance to give these kids a fun day where they can compete on the field just like their peers especially those quiet, reserved kids who don't often get a chance to do that," said Mike Taylor, Executive Director of the Henrico Education Foundation.
"No matter what their skill level is, they're going to have a chance to get on the baseball field, to learn some skills and build some self confidence."
Henrico's Challenger division started back in 1990 with just a handful of physically and mentally disabled youths eager to get out and play baseball just like their classmates. Now, teams compete all over the Richmond Area.
Challenger Day, which is also sponsored in part by the I Have A Dream Foundation, is the first introduction many of these children have to the game and everything that goes with it.
"Sports is such a simple thing for so many kids," said Samantha Yearout, a Special Education teacher at Pinchbeck Elementary. "For opportunities like this to take barriers away, it allows them opportunities to communicate with peers both who are disabled and who are not."
"To get excited to be part of a team, to try something new, to run the bases. Things that at our school and in our community, a lot of places don't really have for them to do."
It's not difficult to see the immediate benefits. Eddie Handsome's son Ethan is a 6th grader at Ashe Elementary, and the look on his face tells you all you need to know.
"The main thing I like to see is him smile" Handsome said. "I don't want to see him have to worry about anything."
"You give them a goal and you see them reach their goal. If a child just wants to hit a ball, he's going to give everything he has to hit that baseball."
"Seeing the kids when they're running the bases, kids that haven't had a chance to do that before and what it means to them," added Taylor. "The excitement in their eyes."
"It really gives them a chance to be themselves," Yearout said. "They're not just defined by a label. They're real people and they get to experience those real things that normal kids get to do."
"You don't see color, race or any of those things in sports," Handsome explained. "When you throw kids in a big circle and you have a sport, they just have fun."
In addition to the more than 350 kids taking part, over 300 volunteers were there to help and cheer them on. They aided in everything except the scoreboard.
They gave that the day off.
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