challenger kid

Reed Houston competes in a Kanawha Valley Little League Challenger Division game. The league allows special-needs kids to compete in baseball.

Nitro principal Jason Redman is spearheading an effort to get a new field built on the grounds of the high school, but not for the use of any of the school’s teams.

This facility instead would be the new, permanent home of the Kanawha Valley’s Little League Challenger Division, which is celebrating its 30th year. The Challenger Division allows players with special needs to compete in a baseball league.

The league used to play at a small field adjacent to the baseball field at Andrew Jackson Middle School, but after Cross Lanes and Nitro merged Little League systems, Challenger play was moved to Nitro.

But that field, originally designed to be a typical baseball diamond, has presented obstacles for Challenger players and it was enough to get Redman thinking and moving.

“I always remember going home to my house [in Cross Lanes] and thinking how do these kids in wheelchairs get up that gravel road?” Redman said. “The field in Nitro is a little better now but it’s still a struggle.

“This winter I was looking on my campus and we are trying to make improvements to the softball field and there’s this really ugly space right next to it. I thought, ‘We really need to do something with this space.’ ”

Having no direct connection to the league, the problem sort of presented itself to Redman as the Challenger League was forced into Nitro’s gymnasium when weather intervened.

The league, which plays games on Thursdays and Saturdays and brings players from all around the area — a total of 53 divided onto four teams at latest count — caught the attention of Redman and several Wildcat students.

“The only connection I had with the Challenger League was them using our gym when it rained and that’s what really drew me into this,” Redman said. “I see kids from our Key Club and Honor Society and show choir volunteer and go help and to see our kids interact with their kids … it’s a win-win for everybody.”

Among the issues with the Challenger League’s current field are limited parking and obstacles for players in wheelchairs and with walkers. Also, some power chairs cannot fit into the dugouts, forcing teams to set up tents instead. Restrooms don’t meet the needs of several players either.

So, on March 28, Redman set up a webpage (https://www.gofundme.com/challenger-baseball-field) to begin a fundraiser with the goal of $50,000 to help build a complex next to the Wildcats’ softball field.

Included in the plans is a turf field to give the league more opportunities to play outside, along with handicap accessible restrooms, bleachers and dugouts as well as lights for night games. There is a video on the website that further details the league’s needs and the plans for the new facility.

So far, the page has raised $5,620, though Redman and company hope that number will soon be on the rise. The league has also asked for grants, material donations and volunteer labor.

The belief is that by expanding and improving the facilities, participation in the program will largely increase, giving even more players from around the state the opportunity to play.

“Those Challenger kids don’t even know where they’re going to be on Thursdays and Saturdays,” Redman said. “Wouldn’t it be great for them to get to come to one spot and have their very own field?

“They draw kids from Ripley, Boone County, Putnam County — everywhere. It’s a great opportunity for them and the parents just love it.”

Contact Ryan Pritt at 304-348-7948 or ryan.pritt@wvgazettemail.com. Follow him on Twitter @RPritt.