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South Portland Little League opens the field to kids with challenges

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South Portland Little League opens the field to kids with challenges

SOUTH PORTLAND — Hope springs eternal as each baseball season begins. This spring the hope extends to kids who may have never had the chance to play ball.

On April 13 from 9-11 a.m., at the Community Center at 21 Nelson Road, registration will be held for a new Challenger Division of Little League, for boys and girls ages 6 to 18 with physical or mental challenges.

"This is a first-year, feel our way. I'm really excited about this,” said Paul McLellan, a coach and board member of the South Portland National Little League.

To McLellan, the Challenger Division is not only a way to get more children involved in the game he loves, but an opportunity for active Little Leaguers to make new friends and become mentors.

That is because the new division needs "team buddies" to help players in all phases of the game. McLellan also hopes high school baseball and softball players will lend their time and skill.

The Little League Challenger Division was established nationally in 1989. More than 30,000 children participate in more than 900 Challenger Divisions worldwide, according to Little League Baseball.

McLellan learned about it on a visit to Connecticut last year, and learned more through Internet research and from organizers of the Deering Little League in Portland, which fields a Challenger Division.

Then he approached the South Portland board and received unanimous approval.

“The league said run with it, so I am running with it,” McLellan said.

South Portland Little League is divided into two geographically based leagues. The National League covers the east side of the city and plays games at diamonds on Pine Street; American League teams from the western section of the city play at Wilkinson Park on New York Avenue.

Registration is open to all city children, and McLellan said he would welcome players from neighboring communities if their Little Leagues do not have a Challenger program.

Challenger Division games will begin on Sundays in May on Pine Street. The games will not conflict with the rest of the league schedule, giving other players the chance to help Challenger Division players hit, throw and field, McLellan said.

"I hope we have a buddy for every child, so the parents can sit in the stands and have a chance to watch their child play,” he said.

Using an 11-inch softball, games will be modified so each player has a chance to hit. No scores will be kept and games will have a time limit. Batters will hit pitches or from a tee, if needed.

The division will not require two full, nine-player squads to play games, and games will be co-ed with mixed ages, McLellan said.

"If we had 10 players or more, I would look to make it two teams. You don't need three outfielders," he said.

After years of playing, coaching and watching, McLellan said his goal is to expand the love of the game.

"Why can't these kids have a chance to play too?," he said.

The registration fee is $35, and players will receive a jersey and cap. A copy of a birth certificate is required for registration. For more information, contact McLellan at 232-8801 or pemandnjt@aol.com.

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.