Batter up for Challenger baseball in Westport: 'Every kid can play'
It's not about whether you win or lose, but how many opportunities you have to play the game.
Thanks to the work of community volunteers -- and one motivated Staples High School student -- a group of area kids will get the chance to play baseball in Westport this season.
The first game for the new Westport Winners team in the Little League Challenger program was scheduled to be played Saturday, April 27. Students with various challenges and disabilities will get the opportunity to play a full season of baseball with other Challenger teams throughout Fairfield County.
Despite the town's prolific Little League program -- the third-largest chartered group in the world, according to Beth Cody, Westport's new Challenger commissioner -- there has never been a team for youngsters with physical or mental disabilities.
"Baseball is a sport that pretty much every kid plays at some point in their life," said Jack Cody, 17, a junior at Staples High School, who was the driving force behind organizing the division. Starting "in the third grade in Westport, hundreds of kids play, and if they get the chance to play, I think every kid deserves a chance to.
"This gives the opportunity for every kid in Westport, no matter what challenges, to play baseball."
Jack Cody, who among other things is an active member of the town's Kool to Be Kind group, whose high school members are mentoring role models for younger students in Westport, first read about the Challenger program in a magazine.
"When I started looking into it, I saw that the surrounding towns had programs," Cody said.
He decided to get involved with Norwalk's program, but ultimately found himself asking why Westport didn't have a Challenger team, as well.
With the help of his mother, Beth, who has been active in Westport Little League for many years, as well as Guy Taccone, Norwalk's commissioner, and others, the program was organized for a launch this spring.
"We are very excited to be a part of Westport Challenger League," said Sharuna Mahesh, whose son, Dev, will play. "In the past, we have had to travel to neighboring towns to have our son participate in sports and are thrilled that we have a team in our community.
"Thanks to Jack Cody for coming up with this idea and Beth Cody for putting this together so quickly."
"I think it's amazing," said Meghan Rice, third-grade commissioner and special events coordinator for Westport Little League. "It's just great to see more kids active."
"I think it's also a great way to meet new people," said Shannon Connors, 17, a Staples varsity softball player who volunteered to help with the Challenger program. "I just think it's great to give these kids a chance to play."
The Westport Winners, which is now fully funded by sponsors for all who participate, is open to boys and girls 5 to 18 years old. So far, the team has a roster of 17 players.
"We actually opened it up to Weston, and I think we've got somebody from Monroe," Beth Cody said of the players.
Participants play with the help of buddies -- generally high school-age volunteers -- when needed. Everyone gets a chance to bat each inning and the games generally last just over an hour.
"One of the moms called us and told us about it," said Markley Rizzi, whose daughter, Bella, 11, joined the team. "It's also a nice way to meet other kids in the community."
Taccone was on hand helping out at the first practice earlier this week.
"This is fantastic," he said. "I don't have to tell you. Just look at the kids."
"Now everyone in Westport, whether they have physical or mental challenges, gets a chance to play, just like everyone else," Jack Cody said.