Challenger Weekend

2011 State Tournament

As most people know, Jesy and I coach a baseball team of kids with special needs in the Butler County Challenger League.  Jesy has been coaching for 4 years, but has been involved with this league for close to 15 years because of Brian playing as well and John and Carol coaching.  I have only been involved for the last couple years.

You see, it was a little bit more of a transition for me. I had not grown up around kids with special needs, except for Brian and that was only when I started dating Jesy when I was 21 years old.  And you  know what they say about teaching an old dog new tricks.  It was very tough for me to get comfortable around the kids.  So when John and Carol asked Jesy and I to coach a team 4 years ago, I couldn’t do it.  Jesy accepted and asked Matt to help.  I stayed away for the first year completely.  The second year I went to a couple games here and there.  And finally in year three I went to just about every game and started to help out.  This year I have even gone to coach meetings and tried to push myself to be even more involved because I was really starting to enjoy watching the kids play.

So what kept me away?  Fear, believe it or not.  I was afraid of interacting with the kids.  What do I say to them?  What do I talk to them about?  If they misbehave what do I do?  What if I can’t understand them when they talk to me?  I let all those obstacles paralyze me around the kids.

But over the course of a couple years the kids have warmed my heart so much that I don’t have the fears that I used to have.  Am I as good with the kids as Jesy and Matt?  No, but I’m much better and much less “scared” of the kids than I used to once be.  I was so excited after the tournament this year that I was already talking about next year this morning with Jesy while we were getting ready for work!

But before we can plan for next year I would love to share some moments from this past weekend at the 2011 Challenger State Tournament in Barberton, Ohio.  This was my second year at tournament and I had a little bit better idea of what to expect and how this was going to go.  It was a blast, not just for the kids, but for the coaches too.  I can’t explain how awesome it is to see the kids have the time of their lives and not just on the field, but running around the hotel with other kids that are in the same boat as they are.  There is no judging, no making fun of, just kids running around having fun…all weekend.

This is what happens when you try to organize 10 kids with special needs for a picture!

Some highlights include:

  • One of our players’ parents, Dale, emptying two of the ice machines in the hotel.  The other two were broken.  Dirty move sir.
  • Conner Fenton taking his job as the pitcher quite seriously.  Also discovering that Conner is a big Star Wars fan.  We actually got yelled at by Bev Fenton, Conner’s mom, for chit-chatting about Star Wars like two little school girls instead of paying attention to the game.
  • Perry Sizemore playing the “roaming fielder” position.  What is that you ask?  Well, in one inning I saw Perry at third, short stop, pitcher, outfield, first base and my personal favorite was when he sat in a chair on the sidelines, but once the ball was hit he ran on to the field and chased after it.
  • I saw Ethan Fullmer run.  I just wish I had a camera to prove that I saw it, because I doubt that anyone would believe me.
  • Jack Wojno getting to see the Purple Firetrucks of Barberton.  Also, I love watching Jack’s twirling swing.  It’s like he coils himself up and then when he goes to swing he unleashes a spinning attack that almost spins himself into the ground!  But when he makes contact, watch out!
  • Sara Reatherford having almost made the catch of the year.  She was playing first base and a line drive was hit right at her.  She held her glove up in more self defense than anything else and the ball landed squarely in the mit.  But Sara didn’t squeeze, except maybe her butt cheeks, and the ball fell out.  Even though she didn’t catch it, it was a spectacular play!
  • Also noteworthy: when pressured, Sara cracked and admitted to having a little crush on me.  The poor girl, I gave her hell about it all weekend!  The crush is either now over or twice as bad.  You would have to ask Sara to be sure, but I guarantee after this past weekend she will tell you she hates me now!
  • Logan doing his best John Kruk impression!

    I got more hugs from Logan Cox than I got hours of sleep over the weekend.  Logan  is new to the team this year, as well as tournament and man are we glad we nabbed him up!  I have never met a more affectionate kid other than perhaps Jessica Fritts.  Landon is always smiling and loves to give hugs, so if you are ever having a bad day, just hang out with him for 5 minutes.

  • Landon making his unprecedented 4th straight tournament.  Landon is the only player on our team to make it every year Jesy has been a coach.   Landon is always the team leader in unintentional bunts, he just kind of holds the bat out there and waits for the ball to hit it.  Not a lot of power, but they have yet to get him out at first!
  • Watching Bailey do her reverse upper-cut swing.  Have you ever watched baseball and noticed that there are some guys that have an upper-cut swing, where it looks like they are trying to golf the baseball out of the park?  Well Bailey is the exact opposite.  She starts her swing high and cuts right down to the ground.  It’s like she is mad at the ball and wants to hit it as hard as she can into the ground.  A bizarre tactic for sure, but Bailey makes it work.

Boyfriend and Girlfriend - Landon and Bailey

Overall, this year was heartwarming, fun and a reminder that despite all our differences we can always come together to celebrate these individuals that have over come so much in their young lives and deserve to have the kind of fun that I know they all had this weekend.

So let me speak for all the coaches and say THANK YOU to all the kids we coached this year.  You do just as much for us and maybe more than we could ever possibly do for you guys!  Keep having fun and reminding us that nothing is impossible and that everything is better when you’re playing baseball!

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9 thoughts on “Challenger Weekend

  1. Pingback: What does the State Tournament mean to you?

  2. George you aren’t the only one that was afraid of kids with disabilities. Before I had Logan I would avoid them also, I totally understand what you mean. Your message brought tears to my eyes. Logan has changed my life in so many wonderful ways. Who would have thought that something you were afraid of, would actually be the best thing that could have come into your life.

    • Thank you Lynn, you are right, it was a strange transformation. Never in a million years did I think that I would be coaching special needs kids! But now i can’t imagine NOT doing it.

      And thank you so much for bringing Logan out this year and to tournament, he is such a special little boy, so full of love, hugs and smiles. I can’t wait to get my first hug next year…if I can wait that long!

  3. I have to say I agree with the both of you. Bailey has changed me and who I used to be. Not only was my first child, but has special needs and learning disabilities. It’s been a difficult road and I am still learning from her everyday. I would never change a thing. I want. To thank you, Jesy and everyone else with Challenger. It has been great. Bailey is already talking about tournament next year.

  4. I’m so proud of you sweetheart, I love watching you with the kids as it brings the biggest smile to my face. I remember the exact moment that you really jumped in to help at tournament last year and I remember my mom and dad both asking me if that was you in the outfield helping the kids. You are a remarkable person and I’m lucky to call you my husband.

  5. great summary of the weekend George as far as Sara Im sure she will still have that crush next year lol Jesy better watch out she already agreed to share you. All the coaches are excellent in what you do and how you interact with the kids. It takes a special person to be able to be around the special children and I believe each and every person involved in challenger is that person. We love the Challenger league and all the people involved just wish we lived closer so we could be more involved Love ya guys see ya next year except for on facebook lol

  6. Well said, George, and I thank you. Reading your feelings makes me recall my 7th grade summer at camp–I was signed up to help special needs campers and I had no idea what I was in for, and it showed. I was incredibly uncomfortable and I vowed I’d never put myself in that position again.

    I’ve never been so happy to be wrong. Jonathan is a wonderful child, as are all of the kids on the Nationals. I’ve said it many times—I think I get more out of this league than they do.

    I’d also like to give kudos to the restaurants who host us for dinners while we’re in town. We’ve been going for years, and we’ve yet to have a problem.

    Oh, and kudos to Corbin Bernsen for staying at the same hotel! He has excellent taste.

  7. Good stuff brother. I’ve recently started literacy volunteering and some of the folks are special needs. Similar experiences, minus the enthusiastic hugs.

  8. Thanks George!!!!! It sure was a fun tournament. I’d like to add my own highlights.. These really are in no particular order…….. 1. Sara’s beautiful play (and almost catch). She has done it before so look out!!!! 2. Bailey’s excitement that she “got to spend the night in the same hotel with her boyfriend.” 3. Logan’s smile even after having to wait awhile for the first game to start. 4. Jack’s comments always make me smile. He speaks whatever is on his mind at the time and I love it!!!!!!!! He was especially funny at the pool 5. The elevator ride where Sara said she “Had to get away from George.” The elevator doors open and there stands George!…..Can’t wait for next year!!!!

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