An IFPAA program is giving adults and children with special needs the chance to get into the game
The goal of the Ingomar Franklin Park Athletic Association’s Challenger Division is to provide school-age children and young adults with special needs an opportunity to participate in sports all year round. Ultimately, it’s a learning experience for the kids as well as the parents.
The Challenger, which is associated with Little League Baseball, features basketball, baseball, soccer and field (or floor) hockey teams. The basketball season, which was completed this past Sunday, is held at the Marshall Middle School.
The parents of the youngsters will tell you that programs, which started in 1992, are a huge success. That’s because the Challenger Division presents a safe, fun and competitive atmosphere for the kids.
‘They enjoy getting out and doing what other kids do, what their brothers and sisters do,’ said Sue Kern, who has served as the Challenger commissioner since ’96. ‘It’s an opportunity for the kids to get together and play with their peers. And it’s a chance for the kids to exercise.’
Kern, and her son Phillip, have been involved with the league since the beginning nine years ago.
Kirk Kubias, whose son Daniel has competed in the league for all nine years, also sees the many benefits of the programs.
‘The kids learn to work as a team while playing a sport that’s fun and competitive,’ said Kubias.
Colleen Manna wishes she learned of the Ingomar-Franklin Park league much sooner. Her son, Marc, joined the basketball league for the first time this year.
‘My son enjoyed playing basketball so much; he wants to play baseball too,’ Manna said. ‘The most important thing is that it’s fun for the kids.’
Kerr has been receiving many positive responses from the parents of the kids participating in the league..
‘I just had one parent tell me how much they appreciated the league giving their kid an opportunity to play in the league,’ said Kerr.
And the parents learned that the league is more than just getting the kids exercise for a couple hours.
‘They actually play the games and keep score,’ said Manna. ‘It’s a real game with winners.’
Keith Hall, who serves as a coach for the league’s teams, instituted the idea of keeping score approximately four years ago.
While the ultimate goal of the league is to create ‘a safe and positive environment for the kids,’ Hall saw the need for competition. Although there’s no standings maintained for the leagues, scores are kept of the individual games.
‘All kids want to know who won the games,’ Hall said. ‘But for years, they didn’t keep the score. It was my idea to start keeping score. At first, I got some mixed reaction from the parents. But when they saw how much it benefited the kids, they understood the positive points.’
Kubias views the IPFAA Challenger league as a good life experience for the kids.
‘Sometimes we coddle these kids,’ Kubias said. ‘In this league, they learn how to win and lose. If they make an out, we’re not right behind them at first base to say ‘it’s all right.’|’
And Kubias sees the improvement in his son’s athletic skills.
‘They keep getting better, whether it’s shooting a basketball or hitting a baseball. It’s impressive to watch them improve,’ said Kubias, who says his son enjoys all the sports.
Hall works diligently to teach the kids the finer points of each sport by holding practice sessions before each game. The kids are taught the fundamentals, just like the youngsters in the Little League baseball program.
‘We worked on the kids’ skills.’ said Hall, of the recently completed basketball season. ‘We worked on dribbling, passing and instituting a zone defense. We ran a 2-1-2 zone defense this year. They were doing a real good job with the defenses by the end of the season.’
With the conclusion of the basketball season, the league is holding registration for baseball, which has the largest participation of the Challenger Divisions. The games are played Sunday afternoon at Blueberry Hill Park. Also, there are special event events held at Vestal Field and Blueberry Hill Park on Friday nights of Mother’s Day and Memorial Day weekends.
Kern says their are approximately 100 families participating in the baseball league. For more information, contact Sue Kern at (412) 734-9174.
‘I’m grateful to the IFRAA for running this program,’ Kubias said. ‘It’s great for the kids.’
IFPAA Challenger roster