BRIDGEPORT, W.Va. (WBOY) — In 2002, Mike Martin was tasked with making Bridgeport Little League better. He peered through some other little league websites and found a similarity between them all: The Challenger Division.
“So, I went to the main Little League website and found out that the Challenger Division is actually a division of Little League that’s available to any Little League, and it is for any child that has any type of restriction or problem that prevents them from playing regular Little League,” Mike said. “So, any child that has any kind of special need, we make room for them and get them to play in our league.”
Mike felt inspired to start the league because of his background in physical therapy and his work with kids with disabilities, and his wife was immediately on board.
“I saw this being available. I went to her [Kim] right away, and we said a little prayer, and we got a thundering, immediate response. God said ‘yeah, do this,'” Mike said.
Now, 20 years later, the league has grown from under 30 kids to nearly 100 kids, ranging in age from toddlers to adults, and from all corners of north central West Virginia.
The organization recruits “buddies” from the local schools and has them help the players on the field during games.
They also have different teams and skill levels based on the needs of each child.
“Just to see that joy on that baseball field, and I cry at every opening. It’s just, like, they’re having the best time, and they’re there with their friends and hanging out,” Kim said.
Through the program, the Martins hope to bridge the gap between kids with and without special needs… and they said they’ve been doing just that. And the best reward for the couple?
“And the best reward we can get is a hug from those kids, or you’re out in the grocery store and they’re like ‘hey Mike! Hey Kim! What are you doing? When does Challengers start?’” Kim said. “It’s wonderful. We have been blessed through God to be able to provide this for the kids.”
For the Martins’ work, making sure all kids have a place to play baseball in north central West Virginia, the Challenger League was given $500 by the Miley Legal Group to help make sure the league can continue in the area.