By Betsy Dolan
As Cynthia Aldridge cheered from the stands, her 15-year old daughter Lexi stopped at third base and hollered,”Don’t embarrass me, mom!” But after the brief scolding, Lexi’s game face was back on as her teammate hit a single and she crossed home plate, stopping at the backstop to have a little chat with her mom before heading back to the dugout. It’s not something Albert Pujols would do, but this isn’t the major leagues. It’s better than that.
“It’s just a huge sense of community and family and coming together just to have fun,” Cynthia Aldridge said. “The games are never competitive. Everybody gets to hit, everybody scores a run.”
Lexi is one of the Lamar Little League’s “League of Champions” athletes. LOC is part of the Challenger Division, a nationwide program that was established in 1989 as a separate division of Little League to enable boys and girls with physical and mental challenges to enjoy the game of baseball. The league encourages the use of “buddies” who help the Challenger players on the field, but encourage the players to bat and make plays themselves. In its fifth year, League of Champions has grown from just four to five players on a handful of teams to more than 100 players and volunteers. Since recreational opportunities for special needs kids are limited, the league has grown mainly through word of mouth from parents of kids who play in the league or from its many volunteers. With no cost for the athletes, it is funded through sponsorships and donations.
“It gives special needs kids the opportunity to play a sport that they normally wouldn’t be able to play,” said Leah Wesolic, League of Champions Coordinator and a Special Education teacher with Fort Bend ISD. “It also gives the parents the chance to sit back and enjoy seeing their child in a baseball uniform.”
The real story is the smile on Lexi’s face as she stops by the backstop after scoring a run.
“Mom, I scored!”
Her mom is also all smiles. And Lexi gets hugs and high fives from her teammates in the dugout.