In 1989, the Little League organization began the Challenger Division program, which gives children with physical and mental challenges the opportunity to participate in baseball. In 1995, the McCabe Park Little League Challenger Division was begun under McCabe Park Little League president Russ Mason. Mason ran the Challenger Division for 20 years, not only touching the lives of countless children, but enriching the greater community.
Emily Middleton, the league’s current head coach, spent seven years coaching the Challenger Division in Knoxville. She settled in Nashville in 2011 and discovered that a Challenger Division existed at McCabe Park.
This is Middleton’s fourth year coaching at McCabe Park and first year over the league. “Russ has pretty large shoes to fill, so hopefully everyone bears with me,” she says.
The Challenger Division does not play competitively. The aim is to instill confidence in the players and model positive team member skills.
“For most of our kids, this is the first chance they’ve had to take the field and be a member of a sports team. Some of them have spent years on the sidelines watching their siblings and friends play ball, never believing they would have the chance to do so themselves,” she says.
There is a broad range of abilities on the field during each season. Some children are in wheelchairs or walkers, others are nonverbal and possibly use special devices for communication, and some have visual and hearing impairments. Volunteer helpers are available each week to assist on the field. Young people from ages 4-18, and up to age 21 if still enrolled in high school, are eligible for participation.
Sign-ups for the Challenger Division are open for the entirety of the season, which typically runs from late April until the beginning of June. All games are held on Saturdays from 10–11 a.m. at McCabe Park baseball field, 4601 Murphy Road in Nashville. When the heat becomes too intense, the league will conclude for the year and celebrate with a bowling party.
The fee for each season is $50 per child and includes their uniform and equipment; scholarships are available if necessary. The league is sponsored by United Cerebral Palsy of Middle Tennessee. For more information about other Challenger Divisions, visit www.littleleague.org/learn/about/divisions/challenger.htm. For information about the McCabe Challenger Division, email Emily Middleton at email@example.com or call 615-604-7579.
“If your child thinks running through the outfield while gathering flowers is more fun than fielding a ball, then we’ll run beside them. So don’t be afraid to bring your child and let them try it out,’ Middleton says. “I’d also like to encourage anyone interested in cheering us on to come down to the field and do so. We’d love to have you. I would argue that there is no better way to spend your Saturday morning. We’re redefining baseball.”