The Minarets Mustang baseball team took part in a Challenger Game last week at Fresno's River Park Little League field. The program gives physically challenged youth the opportunity to partner with youth and high school teams to play baseball, and the game had the Oakhurst Challenger team, coached by Jonas Garner, playing a team from Madera.
Yosemite Little League President John Carrington's daughter, Hannah Lewis, plays on the Oakhurst team which practices one day a week. Lewis was playing in her first game with the team and if smiles are any indication, all in attendance had a great time. Sierra Little League was represented by the A's youth team assisting the Oakhurst team.
The program is in its first year at River Park and is led by District 10 Administrator Doug Wells and his wife Katy.
"My wife and I attended a Challenger game in Dublin and knew we had to be a part of the program," Doug said. "Seeing the smiles on these kids faces is priceless, and it also gives the parents a chance to sit back and relax as they watch these kids have a good time. It gives them just a little break from the daily routine, and seeing the interaction with these kids is awesome."
Wells' district reaches from Chowchilla to Selma and the program currently features 60 children. Wells says he is receiving calls daily from people interested in becoming part of the program and expects it will expand next season.
The guest players play a small role in the game, encouraging players to make the "big plays". This year Wells invited Clovis, Clovis North, Clovis West, and Minarets to take part in the program.
The Mustangs extended invitations to a couple challenger players to attend their Central Section playoff game against McFarland. Challenger player Ricky Gilow threw out the first pitch at the game and enjoyed the game in the dugout with fellow player Sam Otero.
Minarets plans on becoming a regular participate in the program as it grows.
"What an experience" said Mustangs Keenan Reardon. "It really puts life into prospective and makes us realize how blessed we are to play this game we love. Getting to know Ricky and the other players was an amazing experience I will always remember."