Two special young athletes have proven up to the Challenge and are receiving a major league reward as a result.
Tyson Resalat, 14, and Vincent Woywitka, 16, are both part of the Sherwood Park Minor Baseball Association’s Challenger program — an initiative that is in its second year of operation in the Park that is designed specifically to empower children and youth living with cognitive and/or physical disabilities.
The program is powered by Baseball Canada, Little League Canada and the Jays Care Foundation and it is that last one that comes with the big reward as the SPMBA were allowed to select a pair of their players to participate in the National Jamboree in Toronto on Friday — an expenses paid trip where they will meet some Blue Jays and play a game at Rogers Centre.
Local Challenger Baseball coordinator Richard Bourne said the Park pair were over the moon when they found out that they were off to play on the same field as the Toronto Blue Jays with the chance to meet and interact with some of their star players.
“They bring athletes from across the country in for this and we decided to sponsor two of our athletes to go to the event this year,” he said. “We had a list of criteria and had our coaches come up with names and the same tow athletes that I had in the back of my mind that I would pick are the same two that they all recommended.
“I called the parents and told them and both of the athletes are just off-the-wall excited that they are going to this. One of the families, when they told their son, he wanted to get on the plane right then and there. They have been counting the sleeps. Both boys that are going are avid baseball fans and one is just a die-hard Jays fan. It is neat that we can give them this experience.”
In its second year of operation in Sherwood Park, the Challenger program has already proven a valuable for all involved — both the participants themselves and those who assist them in their weekly Wednesday night games.
“It has gone very well,” Bourne said. “For not knowing how many kids we were going to have, we have been very pleasantly surprised with the number of athletes that we have had and the success of the program. This year we have about 40 kids in the program. We pair the athletes up with able-bodied buddies to make sure that they have fun and be safe and also to become their friends. That has been happening quite a bit. Some of our Challenger athletes want the same kids for buddies every time. It has worked out well. It is not the traditional baseball game, They hit off a tee if they want or can hit underhand pitching if they choose that. They hit the ball and run the bases with their buddy, If they are in a wheelchair, their buddy pushes them, or if they have a walker they go with them and encourage them. They can run one base or run them all. We have squeaky bases that some of them love to stomp on and have a big laugh.”
The program is designed to teach children and youth aged five to 18 the core life-skills inherent to baseball, including: teamwork, communication, determination, resiliency, inclusion, support and courage.
With the help of “Buddies” who are assigned on a one for one basis for each participant, games are played in a safe environment where the focus is on having fun instead of keeping score.
“I’ve had parents come to me and say how great the program is,” Bourne said. “There is a shortage of programs like this and this fills a void. There are kids that just love baseball but there was no way they could play in the regular leagues that we have. Parents are just ecstatic that we have this. We take our rep team players and each of them sign players up for two weeks per summer to be the buddies. We have teams that love it so much that they come back for three or four nights. I have about 12 or 14 coaches involved, and these are people who have been around baseball for a lot of time. It’s funny, the coaches we have for the Challenger program have more experience at the national and provincial championship level than our whole rep coaching staff from this year. Some of the old-timers really love the idea of coming out once a week and working with these kids.”