2002-06-12 / Front Page

A special program for special people Challenger sports league marks 10th anniversary in Freehold Township

Staff Writer
By linda DeNicola

A special program
for special people
Challenger sports league
marks 10th anniversary
in Freehold Township

JERRY WOLKOWITZ With some help from his playing buddy, Andrew Rubinson (r), Matthew Lykes gets a hit in a Challenger League baseball game. The Freehold Township sports league for children with special needs is celebrating its 10th anniversary this month.

The Freehold Township Challenger program for young athletes with disabilities will be celebrating its 10th anniversary on June 23 at the Laura Donovan School. As part of the program, a new Challenger banner will be dedicated and a newly formed Hall of Fame will be initiated.

The program began in 1993 as an outgrowth of the Freehold Township Little League and quickly expanded to include neighboring communities. According to Alan Goldstein, program director, the Challenger program now includes 125 athletes between the ages of 3 and 21. About 100 buddies — teen-age volunteer helpers from all over western Monmouth County — who also participate.

In addition, there are 30 coaches who are adults and high school students who have been buddies for several years and it’s all strictly voluntary, Goldstein said.

"We are now a four-season organization, doing soccer in the fall, basketball in winter, baseball in spring and a tennis program in the summer. Any child with a special need of any type is eligible. We are dealing with kids who have special needs such as autism, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, and so on."

Goldstein said all of the Challenger activities are held on Sunday mornings at township facilities.

"We owe our thanks to the Freehold Township Little League and the recreation department for allowing us to use their facilities," the director said.

According to Goldstein, who initiated the program with Tom Saporita, assistant director, "Many people, including parents, have helped us develop the Challenger program into a real family atmosphere.

"Tom and I are experienced coaches and we like to help kids. We started with about 39 kids and two coaches. We view our kids as athletes, not as kids with disabilities. We try to teach them and coach them as any other kids. They are proud of their involvement in the program and wear their uniforms to school," he said.

The Challenger program has been rewarding for everyone, coaches, athletes and parents, he said.

"We’ve had some firsts. We had a child run for the first time and a child speak for the first time. We impact social skills and communication skills," Goldstein said, explaining that parents are not typically allowed on the field. "The parents just sit back and watch the kids. They bring food, their newspapers and just relax."

According to Goldstein, several committees are planning the 10th anniversary party with team coordinator Debbie Charette.

"We’ve just completed a major fund-raiser. We solicited funds from all of the local businesses to help pay for party and we have about $12,000. It’s going to be a big party," he said.

During the three-hour party, baseball awards will be handed out. There will also be a disc jockey, face painting, balloons, a magic show and a buffet dinner. A turnout of about 400 people, including local and state officials, is expected to attend the June 23 event.

Goldstein said the Challenger program was born out of his involvement with the Little League and has grown because of the involvement of the community. Goldstein, a school psychologist and special needs educator, was president of the baseball program when he and Saporita decided to start the Challenger program.

"Many of our people, including the buddies, keep coming back. It’s plain old fun. We have a rule where we make up our own rules as we go along," he said.

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