Challenge Accepted: Kingman North Little League brings baseball to special needs children

Courtesy of Little League Baseball and Softball

Baseball is an all-American sport and Steve Petrauschke believes that all Americans should have a chance to play – irrespective of physical or mental limitations. This belief, coupled with the resolve of a governing board and the support of local leaders, gave birth to the Challenger League.

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Steve Petrauschke

According to Petrauschke (Kingman North Little League president), “Little League International started the Challenger League in 1989 as a division separate from regular Little League.” The Challenger League was created so that “kids with mental and physical challenges would be able to participate in baseball, just like other boys and girls around the world.”

The Challenger League’s rules of acceptance and play are designed to maximize participation by special needs players between the ages of 4 and 19. If a player is still in high school beyond the age of 19, however, they may participate up to the age of 22.

Accommodations are made depending on the disability of the player. For example, when a player is up to bat, they may put bat to ball in several different ways, either hitting it off a tee or receiving a pitch from one of the coaches. In Petrauschke’s words, “We’re trying to make it as much like baseball as we can, but at the same time accommodating them for their needs.”

In his capacity of Little League president, Petrauschke was first approached about the Challenger League by Chris Smith. A graduate of Kingman High School and a North Little League board member, Smith “really had a passion for special needs . . . and wanted to see this happen.” Petrauschke gladly lent his support to the cause.

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Petrauschke notes that the idea to start a Challenger League in Kingman is not new. These waters have been tested before. According to Petrauschke, prior attempts have largely failed. He is encouraged this time, however, because of the chorus of supportive voices, including but not limited to the fire and police chiefs, district superintendents, teachers, physical therapists, and others.

Even still, the Challenger League faces several obstacles.

“I think the biggest challenge is the unknown,” Petrauschke said. “It’s never been done in Kingman before. We’re not sure what the response is going to be.”

One persistent concern is that it may take too many volunteers to run. The Little League board has an answer to that objection. They have decided to incorporate – as volunteers – players from the Major Leagues (Little League players in the age range of 10-12). Each Major League team will be responsible for assisting at one of the Challenger League’s six games.

As a division within Little League, the Challenger League will be overseen by North Little League’s board members: Steve Petrauschke, Christopher Smith, Mark Knight, Jessica Knight, Shaun Munn, Kyle Murphey, and Lawrence Koyayesva.

The future of the Challenger League in Kingman is not certain. Petrauschke has high hopes that other leagues – like Kingman South Little League or even Lake Havasu – will eventually partner with North Little League in offering a Challenger League in their communities.

For those interested in getting involved, registration will take place Saturday at the Kingman Academy of Learning Middle School, 3269 Harrison St.

Due to the gifts of donors, this first year will be free to participants.

For more information, please contact Steve Petrauschke at knll.president@gmail.com.