MASON, Ohio — Jennifer Christmas’ 13-year-old son has been playing baseball with the Mason Challenger League for six years. She said he loves it, because it gives him the chance to be like his peers and “to be normal for an hour a day.”
The Mason Challenger League is a youth league specifically for kids with physical and developmental challenges. It started nine years ago, and this spring would have had its eighth season if not for a setback caused by COVID-19. There are about 100 kids signed up to play from Warren County and the surrounding communities.
Christmas said it’s just like real baseball, with a modification or two.
“The only difference is that we don’t keep score, everyone gets to bat and everyone gets to play the field,” she said.
The Mason Challenger League is facing one major challenge right now -- raising money to build an all-inclusive “field of dreams” in Makino Park in Mason that would create easier access for its athletes.
“Our goal is to put three baseball fields here,” said Susan Murdock, co-president of the Mason Challenger League. “Hopefully, by next spring, we can be playing baseball here.”
To make that goal happen, the league is hoping to win a $25,000 grant from State Farm with the help of the community. It’s one of 200 similar organizations competing for the money, and is relying on votes to come out ahead. The grant wouldn’t cover the entire $1.5 million needed to build the fields, but it would be a huge boost.
“We would be so appreciative if our community rallies behind us and helps us get these votes,” Murdock said.
A “field of dreams” would mean a level playing field for league athletes like Christmas’ son.
“He walks, but he’s not very coordinated,” Christmas said. “There’s a lot of tripping hazards, with the normal fields you’ll see, just from the rain, a puddle or indentation, and that just kind of causes a problem for him when he’s trying to navigate the fields.”
Murdock said some of the main issues are access to the fields from the parking lots. Standard fields are surrounded by grass, which isn’t easily accessible by wheelchair. Dugouts are also a major concern.
“For typical kids, they’re moving in and out quickly,” Murdock said. “You have wheelchairs, sometimes they can’t fit in the dugout or they can’t sit with their friends in the dugout at all because we can’t get them in the dugout.”
Murdock said the modified fields would utilize turf so rain doesn’t cause puddles and so kids in wheelchairs or walkers can manage the terrain easily.
“(It) would be easier for them to roll onto the field and play,” Christmas said. “Get into and out of the dugout, be able to talk to their friends while they’re waiting their turn to bat. I think all around it’s just a lot more helpful for them to have something that’s adapted and enabled for them to play."
Click here to vote for the Mason Challenge League to receive the $25,000 State Farm grant. Up to 10 votes are allowed per day and voting closes Oct. 2.