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Little League Challenger Division Fills Special Need for Baseball

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Copyright 2013 Virginian-Pilot Companies LLC
All Rights Reserved

The Virginian-Pilot(Norfolk, VA.)
October 6, 2013 Sunday
Princess Anne Edition
VIRGINIA BEACH BEACON; Pg. P1
494 words
Challenger division is about playing, not winning

By Jane Bloodworth Rowe

Correspondent

The boy hits the ball, runs to first, rounds second and makes it to third, where he pauses a second. His eyes fix on home plate.

Heeding a signal from the coach, the young player decides to remain on base, at least for now. He races home on the next hit, smiling broadly.

The crowd of onlookers - even those from the opposing team - cheered as the boy, 8-year-old Brady McPherson, crossed home plate.

In this Little League division, the focus isn't on winning, but on giving all kids a chance to play, according to player agent Steve Hackforth.

Brady, the son of Sean and Grace McPherson, plays outfield and first base for the Green Run Braves, who were playing the Azalea Phillies of Norfolk on a recent sunny Sunday afternoon. The players are part of the Green Run Little League's Challenger Division, which is open to all children from 4 to 19 years old who have special needs, Hackforth said.

Some of the children play in wheelchairs. Others are mentally challenged while others are autistic. They range from small to statuesque adolescents, but they all seem to love baseball, and they love cheering for their teammates and opponents.

No one strikes out in these noncompetitive games. All players swing until they hit the ball, and the coaches are upbeat in their advice and encouragement.

"It's all about children enjoying the sport of baseball," said Hackforth, who has been working with the division since 2002.

The Green Run Braves are one of seven Challenger teams from Hampton Roads, and the only one in Virginia Beach that's playing this fall. About 23 children turned out for the fall season, but Hackforth has a lot of help from the dedicated parents.

"We require parental involvement," said Hackforth, who added that games give parents a chance to interact with and support each other.

For some of the players, the chance to play baseball is a dream come true, according to McPherson and Pat Ensing, whose daughter Jessica also plays for the Green Run Braves. "We've been very fortunate to find a team that allows her to play," said Ensing, who explained that Jessica has some physical challenges, including juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. "Steve and the group are just fantastic."

Jessica, a third-grader at Green Run Elementary School, scored two runs at the recent game, and she has proven to be very versatile on the field.

"I like batting and switching positions," said Jessica, who explained she plays all positions.

Brady, a third-grader at New Castle Elementary School, grew up playing with his brother, Jonah, who now plays for Plaza Middle School. "I like baseball because it's my favorite thing to do," he said.

"Brady's been watching his brother play for a long time," said McPherson. "Now he has a chance to play instead of just watching from the sidelines."

For more information about Green Run Little League's Challenger Division, email greenruninfoofficer@gmail.com

Jane Bloodworth Rowe, jrowe28@cox.net, 268-2630.

Jane Bloodworth Rowe Brady McPherson, 8, positions his bat before hitting a triple. He is the son of Sean and Grace McPherson and plays for the Green Run Braves.
October 7, 2013

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