Challenger Baseball League Lets Special Needs Kids Play Ball - - KCEN HD - Waco, Temple, and Killeen

Challenger Baseball League Lets Special Needs Kids Play Ball

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(KCEN) -- Spring is right around the corner, and for kids across the country, it's time to start getting ready for baseball season.

For more than 20 years, Waco's Lake Air Little League has included teams for kids with disabilities.

Ten-year-old Conner loves sports. But cerebral palsy has made it harder for him to enjoy them the same way other kids do.

"We knew that the minute he turned five we wanted him to play," said Alicia Castillo, Conner's mom.

Castillo found Waco's Challenger League five years ago. Since it began, it's grown to six teams, just for kids with cognitive and physical disabilities.

"It means the world to see them be able to interact with the other kids," said Ashley Windham, one of the coaches who doesn't have a child on a team.

The kids who need it get what they call a "buddy," someone to lend a hand.

Conner's buddy is his 11-year-old brother, Aaron.

"As a father, you always dream of seeing your child play ball," said Wesley Perry, another coach. "And I didn't have that for a long time."

Now Perry is on the field coaching his 14-year-old son, Kade.

The field looks just a little bit different -- instead of dirt there's a rubberized surface, which makes it easier for wheelchairs to maneuver -- but these kids are getting the same thing out of the sport that everyone else is getting.

"We only have one rule, and it's been the same rule for 24 years, and that's have fun," said Jimmy Moreno, a coach who started in the league as a player during its inaugural season.

Two and a half decades in, they're going strong, and always looking for more players and volunteers.

"Anyone who wants to be a buddy, a coach, come and clean the leaves up, anything that you want to do for us," said volunteer recruiter Coleen Ostrom, "we can always use help."

"It's not something that they get to do all the time, so getting to see them be happy is what makes me happy," said Tiffany Hlavenka, a 19-year-old buddy. She started working with the kids her freshman year of high school to get service hours, but fell in love with the program and just keeps coming back.

Just looking at their faces, it's not hard to tell just how happy playing ball makes kids like Conner.

"Absolutely do it," Castillo recommends to anyone thinking about it. "It gives them so much pride and confidence."

And it gives them the chance to be like every other kid.

If you want to register your child or sign up to volunteer, call Coleen Ostrom at 254-723-3828.

The season lasts six weeks and doesn't start for a couple more months.

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