The Times West Virginian

Sports

June 30, 2014

Challenger baseball team gives added meaning to the game

BARRACKVILLE — All too often sports are taken too seriously.

Players and fans alike sometimes get too wrapped up in who is winning, who’s son or daughter is going to drive in the winning run, how many home runs will be hit or beating the other team so bad that they don’t want to play your team again.

But every now and then, a glimmer of hope shines through the negative stereotypes of athletes and sports fans.

Sunday afternoon in a park in Barrackville, that ray of hope was more than a glimmer.

While rain clouds dotted the surrounding areas, sunshine shown bright over a baseball diamond which held members of the Fringe Challenger Little League baseball team.

In Little League, a division called the Challenger Division is set up for players ages four through 22, as long as they’re enrolled in school.

Locally, the league is finishing up its second season and the parents, coaches and players involved couldn’t be happier that the league came to the Fringe League.

“The location of it is wonderful because Morgantown or Clarksburg, either one is a good ways to go,” said Tracey Gregor, whose son, Joshua, plays on the Challenger team, said. “And Joshua, he can get out there and run but he's tube-fed and clinically deaf so he has a cochlear implant so he doesn't have the opportunity or the strength to keep up with a regular ballclub season or practices. So this is his only opportunity to get to do the things that his peers get to do. He's really, really enjoyed it.”

Jennifer Keefover, whose son Alex is 19 years old, has cerebral palsy and plays for the team from his motorized wheelchair, agreed.

“With Alex being in a wheelchair, this is the only opportunity he has for something like this,” she said. “He used to play in Morgantown but now to have something local, this is fabulous.”

While some of the rules are different, such as each person on the Challenger team getting an at-bat each inning, the smiles and laughter shared are nothing short of genuine.

For coach Larry Kincell, that may be his favorite part of helping out with the team.

“I love to see the smiles on their faces. I love to see them succeed,” Kincell said, joyous tears beginning to form in his eyes. “I love to see our children that help out and their kind hearts. I really like to see a child hit the ball very well and make plays. That's touching to me."

In addition to the Challenger team on the field, players from the Fringe League provide their opponents each week.

"It's through the Fringe League. They enjoy putting it together. We have eight different communities in Fringe and each of them are usually represented here,” Kincell noted. “They hear about it and they bring their children. They want their kids to be a part of this. It could be life-changing."

And while during their Fringe League games you may see most of them making spectacular plays with their gloves or hitting towering home runs, the Fringe League players are more than happy to toss aside their basic baseball instincts to ensure that the Challenger players secure the victory.

“We love watching the little leaguers. They do what they're not supposed to do,” Keefover said. “It's funny.”

To watch a game, Kincell said, can really allow people to understand why the game of baseball was invented.

"This is a game. It was about fun, playing and having a good time. This is where you can take baseball and make it strictly a game,” he said. “That's why I enjoy it."

By day’s end, high fives and pats on the back are shared among members of each team, always making sure to end the game with a line full of handshakes just as any sport does.

Next week will wrap up the 2014 season for the Challenger team, but Kincell and the others are hoping that when the season rolls around next May that they’ll be able to put two Challenger teams on the field to play against each other.

Email Matt Welch or follow on Twitter @MattWelch_TWV.

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