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Thursday, March 13, 2008

More get to play ball

By Brian McCready
Milford Bureau Chief
— For the first time in 15 years, mentally and physically challenged youths this spring will have an opportunity to play baseball. this spring.
The once-popular program is being brought back in large part due to the efforts by Recreation Department Adaptive Program Coordinator Debra Marchese and the support of Connecticut Little League District 4 Administrator David E. Ruotolo.
Milford National Lou Gehrig Little League co-Presidents Jerry Maher and Shawn Murray, and Milford International Little League President Brian Rowland have pledged to provide fields, the costs of uniforms and equipment for the youths.
Marchese said she first got involved in Challenger Baseball while living in Greenwich. Her son, Joseph, 15, is autistic, and she began organizing a youth sports program for special needs children. Marchese then moved to Milford and became the adaptive program coordinator for the city.
She said it’s a great program in which anyone can participate. For example, a youth in a wheelchair can swing a bat and hit the ball from a tee, and a family member or volunteer can wheel the player around the bases.
Marchese said most participating youths have autism, and the sport helps with socialization and self-esteem.
Ruotolo said the program disbanded because the parents who pushed for the program had their children graduate from high school. Ruotolo said reinstating the Challenger program began with a phone call from Marchese two months ago.
Rowland said once a year, someone would inquire about such a program and he had to refer them to West Haven. He said play will alternate at Clarkson, Fowler and Brewster fields. He said handicapped-accessible improvements were made to the field and it cost $is little league15,000 to accommodate the program.
The Challenger baseball team will join the April opening day ceremonies with the International and Milford National Lou Gehrig Little Leagues. They will play Challenger teams from West Haven, East Haven, Hamden and Cheshire in May and June.
To join, youths should be 5-18 years old or still in high school students. The program is for all abilities. Games will be played on the weekends, and practice is one day. There is no cost.
For more details about the league, call Marchese at 783-3275 or go to the Challenger registration day at the Tri-Beach Community Center at 1:30 p.m. March 22. Volunteers and buddies are encouraged.


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