Almost any Sunday in the spring, you’ll find the little leaguers of Westside Santa Clara Little League taking the field at one of the local parks. It’s a lot like a pick-up game. Positions and outs don’t matter; neither does the score. That’s because the game is all about the players.
“Challenger is the best thing about Little League baseball,” said Challenger team coach James McLachlan.
The Challenger White Sox team is designed for little leaguers with physical or intellectual challenges that still want to express their love for the game. During each game, the Challenger players are teamed up with a “buddy” that plays catch and runs the bases with them.
“Being a buddy with a person, you kind of get to know them better,” said Luke McLachlan, who still comes out to play with the Challenger players even though he’s graduated out of Little League. “You just start talking to them and they just kind of become a friend. You just kind of become buddies with everybody and you get to know everybody and then it’s like a giant family also.”
James McLachlan says Luke’s involvement with the Challenger program as a little leaguer is what encouraged him to get involved as the team’s coach.
“Luke is the whole reason we do it. We were just one of the parents and buddies,” said James McLachlan. “I raised my hand [and volunteered] because [Luke] enjoyed it so much.”
The players enjoy it too.
“Boom. You drop the bat,” said Aidan, who loves batting and is wrapping up his first season with the team.
“He just started. He’s loving it,” said Gilles Denoyer, Aidan’s father. “Hitting the ball; he’s having fun.”
“He looks forward to it. Glove up; hat on. [He’s] excited for baseball,” said Stan, whose son James has played on the team for more than three years. “We try not to miss it. He knows when it’s going to be.”
As for his teammate Aiden Endo, it’s all about the home runs.
“Hit the homerun,” said 14-year-old Aiden, who gets closer to perfecting his homerun dance every time he rounds the bases and steps on home plate.
“It’s been great, I’ve been here for several years already,” said Lauren Endo, Aiden’s mother. “We’re so lucky to have coach and Noelle.”
Noelle Boccignone is the team’s General Manager. She helped create Westside’s Challenger team about five years ago when she was looking for a place for her daughter Emily to play baseball.
“It’s a place for the parents to really sit back and enjoy,” said Boccignone. “The kids are very happy and they’re joyful. They’re proud. To me, it’s priceless.”
For the Westside Challenger Little League team, there are no barriers.
“There is not a single thing that stops anybody from coming to be on our Westside team,” said James McLachlan. “No parent pays a single cent for their kid to play.”
Westside is happy to accept players from any city and of any age. A few months ago, 44-year-old baseball fan Javier Gamarra was invited to join the team and now he calls it his family.
To find out how to join the Challenger team, just visit the website www.scwestside.com.