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Beating Brain Cancer with a Baseball Bat—Part II

Little League's Challenger Division enables kids with special needs to enjoy national pastime.

The following is the second installment in a three-part series. Click to read Part I.

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Doug Kaufman—who started Menlo-Atherton’s Challenger Division with co-coach Bob Crowe three years ago after both ran other Little League teams their kids played on—captures the essence of the Challenger experience when he calls it “a win-win-win thing.”

“The kids love it, the buddies love it, the parents love it,” he says.

Kristen Seidel, a 20-year-old Palo Alto player who has an undiagnosed left brain disability, says, “It’s awesome. It’s fun. Everyone’s cheering for me.”

Teammate Aidan Malone, who has a brain disorganization, likes all sports but particularly enjoys the sights and sounds of being outside playing baseball. He has played for the Palo Alto Giants for about eight years.

His favorite part of the game? The cheering, and when the coaches yell out, “Bring it in!” at the end of an inning.

“This is the highlight of my week,” Aidan, 15, says with the help of his father, Chuck.

Doug Kaufman is grateful he has found a way to give his youngest son, Joe, a chance to follow in his older brothers’ footsteps, in spite of being born with Down syndrome.

“He’s watched (Michael and Stephen) play baseball, basketball and volleyball for years,” Kaufman says, “and this is his chance to put a uniform on and be involved in a team.”

Many Challenger parents say their kids are thrilled to tell their classmates at school that they play baseball.

For the vast majority of the kids, the favorite part of the day is getting to interact with their buddies.

“He’s very into his buddies,” Bronte Abraham says of her son, Micah, an autistic 11-year-old on the Red Sox. “In the car, he’s like, ‘Who am I going to play with today?’”

Andi Dehne says of her son, Riley: “He’s all about his buddies. He doesn’t care much about baseball. It’s really all about the buddies.”

And those buddies say that they take enormous satisfaction from helping give the Challengers “a chance to play sports like any other kid,” in the words of Menlo-Atherton Little Leaguer John Gardner, a 10-year-old buddy.

“You immediately see how happy they are,” adds Chace Warren, 18, a third-year buddy who played two years of varsity baseball at Menlo-Atherton High School. “It’s their passion out here and their enthusiasm that makes it a positive atmosphere for everyone.”

Lauren Diller, a three-sport athlete who will be a senior at M-A, calls her first year as a buddy “a great experience.”

“You can tell they really enjoy the game,” continues Diller, 16. “They’re really excited to be out here and hit and throw the ball and run the bases. As an athlete, being able to help kids play, it’s great. It’s a great thing.”

Using older kids, for the most part, as buddies was the master stroke of Kaufman and Crowe. Some other Challenger teams use parents as the buddies. But tabbing kids as the helpers creates a chance for a different bond than the players have with their parents, gives the buddies a difference-making volunteer opportunity and enables the parents to act like all other Little League parents for a change.

“A trip to the park is … watching them like a hawk,” says Sue Todd, Cameron’s mother. “It’s a lot more work then. Here, I can actually sit back and enjoy the activity rather than be the activity.”

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Alessandra Glickman has gotten so accustomed to her omnipresent medical visits that she knows what’s coming before it happens.

“Every time we get in the car, she says, ‘Doctor?’” Rob Glickman describes.

Between enduring those appointments and tagging along whenever her family heads to all the activities of her brother, Luca, a healthy 6-year-old, Alessandra has been a fantastic sport.

But Challenger Day is all about Alessandra. And as the Glickmans get ready to head south from their Burlingame home, it’s as if she can’t believe it.

“We get in the car, and she says, ‘Baseball for me?’” her father says.

No one could have expected Alessandra’s resilience in grappling with the extremely rare combination of Down syndrome and brain cancer. But here she is, enjoying playing catch with her dad with a purple and pink glove as her teammates start arriving for a baseball game.

“She does dancing, she does painting, you name it,” Rob Glickman says. “(But) baseball is by far her favorite.”

“She just loves it—loves it. She cannot wait to go out there and play like every other kid.”

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Patch’s three-part series on Challenger baseball will conclude with a photo slideshow on Sunday.

Troy July 29, 2011 at 03:47 PM
I LOVE IT. Relax those of you who have complained about the title. Let good be done.
Anjessello July 29, 2011 at 10:07 PM
Great way for everyone to interact. It does bring a goodness in life.
Sue Todd July 30, 2011 at 12:02 AM
Thanks for a great Part II, look forward to parts III and IV

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