Challenger Baseball, an adaptive baseball program for individuals with physical and mental challenges, will be held on Saturdays from Sept. 16, through Oct. 28 at Pryor Park.
The free program is for residents and non-residents ages 5 and up, and there will be volunteer baseball “buddies” to assist in any capacity: hitting, fielding and base running.
Moorestown resident Ken Catanella brought the idea for the program to Theresa Miller, director of the township’s Parks and Recreation Department, a few years ago after watching his grandson’s little league game in California. He heard what he described as a “roar of joy and laughter and applause” at a neighboring field and couldn’t figure out what everyone was so excited about.
“I went over and I noticed that there was a gentleman on his knees pitching near about halfway down towards the batter’s box, throwing underhand to a young boy who was being assisted by what looked like a little leaguer helping him swing the bat,” Catanella recalled.
“Then, (he) hit the ball and ran to first base with the help of the little leaguer, and parents were just going wild and so was the young boy, who was jumping up and down with joy when he hit the hall and was running to first base.”
After learning more about Challenger Baseball, Catanella was hooked. When he returned to New Jersey, he and Miller worked together to bring the program to the township rec department. It has been a hit since it started in 2018, and Catanella and his wife, Cheryl, continue to sponsor the program.
Catanella will pitch again this year and looks forward to seeing everyone have fun.
“Everybody gets to hit; we don’t let anybody strike out,” he explained. “We run around the bases, even if it’s a single, we keep running around the bases. It’s a joy to watch and to be a part of.”
Games last an hour and are played with a regular-size baseball that is softer and made of rubber. The upper baseball field is a Cal Ripken, regulation little league field, is ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliant and has a synthetic turf infield.
Bats, balls and helmets are provided; all players need is a glove. Partnering with Catanella on Challenger Baseball has enabled Miller to see the all-inclusive program grow yearly.
“He cares immensely for all these children,” she said of Catanella. “ … It’s brought a lot of joy to many, many families.”
For Catanella, seeing what Challenger Baseball does for others is the payoff.
“The greatest award is doing something for others,” he noted. “You hear that all the time, but then when you do it, you really understand that it’s true. Each time they run those bases, it’s just a great feel-good.”
The program went on hiatus in 2020 due to COVID, but when Challenger Baseball returned the following year, it was like it never stopped.
“We didn’t skip a beat,” Catanella said. “Kids were just ready to go and excited.”
For information about Challenger Baseball, visit https://www.moorestown.nj.us/642/Parks-Recreation.