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NGLL to offer Mantecas first Challenger Division
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• WHAT: Challenger Division signups
• WHEN: Saturday
• WHERE: Manteca Baseball Softball Academy (640 Industrial Park Drive)
• TIMES: Noon – 3 p.m.
• FEE: $70

Children with mental, physical and other developmental disabilities from Manteca and surrounding cities will have a chance to enjoy the national pastime in an organized setting.

Northgate Little League will be home to the city’s first Challenger Division, a separate division established by Little League in 1989. The nearest Little League organizations that offer a Challenger Division are in Tracy and Salida. More than 30,000 children participate in more than 900 Challenger Divisions worldwide.

Special-needs children residing within the boundaries of other nearby Little League organizations — Manteca, Spreckels Park, Lathrop, Weston Ranch — are welcome to join.

Registration is available online at www.northgatelittleleague.org or in person this Saturday at Manteca Baseball Softball Academy (640 Industrial Park Drive) from noon to 3 p.m. The signup fee is $70 per child, and three or more proofs of residence are required.

“We’re really excited about this,” said Northgate Little League president Mel Abrew. “It’s a wonderful thing to do and Little League makes it all possible.

Manteca resident Katie Rose-Lucchesi is credited for helping Northgate launch its own Challenger Division. She has a special-needs child who played for Salida Little League the past two years and approached Northgate’s board of directors last summer, asking if it could charter its own Challenger Division. Her older son, Trent, 10, is a McParland School student and plays for Northgate Little League.

“I’m out of my comfort zone because I’ve never been a team mom,” Rose-Lucchesi said. “But I just love kids with special needs. It touches my heart and anybody’s heart to watch these kids play the game. I’m really grateful that Mel and the board gave us the go-ahead to give it a try.”

The Challenger Division is offered for boys and girls as young as 4 and up to high school-aged students. Players get to wear the same uniforms, shoulder patches and safety equipment as other Little Leaguers.

While typical Little League divisions are age based, the Challenger Division separates kids according to abilities with games played under tee-ball, coach-pitch and player-pitch formats.

Rules are altered to promote equal playing time. The side is retired when the offense has batted through the roster, a predetermined number of runs are scored or three outs are recorded. Little League recommends that scores are not kept for these games.

“It’s a completely different game than regular baseball,” Rose-Lucchesi said. “Nobody judges anybody; they just go out and have a good time. It’s such a wonderful experience for the kids, parents and everyone involved.”

Little League also encourages the use of “buddies” who assist Challenger players on the field of play. Abrew said he will urge players from Northgate’s 13-14-year-old division to serve as buddies.

“It offers those kids a whole new perspective to life,” Abrew said. “The buddies can get as much out of it as the challenger players themselves.”

Both Abrew and Rose-Lucchesi said that backing from the Manteca Unified School District is key to jumpstarting the Challenger Division. Roger Goatcher, the district’s special education director, has met with Abrew and Northgate’s board and is committed to aiding Challenger coaches in the future.

Manteca Unified serves over 2,000 special education students, and Abrew said many with minor disabilities are Little League participants.

“It’s a great thing for the city of Manteca and the whole school district,” Abrew said.