When Rob Auriana saw how much fun his daughter had and how much she learned playing in the Mason Challenger League, a growing program for youth with physical and developmental challenges, he got goose bumps.

“Think of how proud your parents were watching you accomplish something,” says Rob Auriana, Mason Challenger League director of training. “Take it a couple steps deeper with a special needs child, where you have the opportunity as a parent to not be by your child’s side and watch them accomplish something on their own. That can’t be replaced.”

The Challenger League is a growing national program run through Little League and is not unfamiliar to the Greater Cincinnati area, which has programs in Butler County. However, it is a fairly new program for the Mason area, which had its pilot season in 2012.

“[The Mason Youth Organization was] looking for ways to grow the program for kids in the area,” says Susan Murdock, Mason Challenger League board president. “We’re giving children a lot of opportunities to play ball.”

In Spring 2013, the league opened its first season with 30 players, two teams and four games. It has since grown to over 45 players with each facing their own challenges, such as autism, Down Syndrome, blindness, physical issues that require the use of leg braces and canes, limited use of limbs and more.

Murdock says, “It’s all over the board.”

The Challenger League separates itself from other programs by not having umpires, having flexible rules and bringing in special guests to be the pitchers.

“There are no outs or scores. Every kid plays in the field and gets to bat,” says Auriana.

Mason Challenger teams consist of youth 5 to 18 years old, are co-ed, and balanced by gender, age and capabilities.

“The children are able to play and engage with other kids,” says Auriana. “They are welcomed and excited to be there.”

Other individuals are also excited to be a part of this program and support it. Community members—like high school students, teachers and nurses—can get 
involved with the baseball buddy program. The baseball buddy program matches individuals with youth on 
the team.

“It’s as simple as talking to them, high fives, helping them hit, directing them,” says Murdock. “We require that [our baseball buddies] commit to 80 percent of the season.”

She adds that many of the youth and their buddies develop a friendship over the season, which lasts eight weeks.

For those unable to commit to the baseball buddy program, there is also an Adopt-A-Team program, where churches, companies and other baseball teams in the area are fans for the games. “They bring posters, swag bags and treats,” she says.

The Mason Challenger League holds two free clinics per year and the league’s goal is to have a field built with special accommodations for the players.

“This is their opportunity,” says Murdock. “They’ll say ‘I’m playing. I get a uniform. I have a team.’ It completely reminds you of the spirit of baseball [and] friendship.”