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Published: Monday, 8/12/2002

These youths are in a league all their own

BY HANNAH BERGMAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Toledoan Bryce McCoy, who is on the Maumee Dragsters team, takes a swing at the ball during Little League Challenger Division play at Rolf Field. Everyone gets five pitches before a buddy helps the batter hit the ball. Toledoan Bryce McCoy, who is on the Maumee Dragsters team, takes a swing at the ball during Little League Challenger Division play at Rolf Field. Everyone gets five pitches before a buddy helps the batter hit the ball.
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The last batter in every inning hits a home run, guaranteed. There are no outs, no strikes, no balls.

“They still play ball for the sport of it. They don't care who wins or loses,” said Anileda Godfrey, coach of the Maumee Dragsters.

It's the very nature of the league - the Little League Challenger Division - a baseball organization for children with mental and physical disabilities.

The group held its annual state tournament at Maumee's Rolf Field yesterday and Saturday.

“I love it. I think it's a great idea,” said Trooper Rebecca Blue. The Ohio Troopers Coalition sponsored the tournament for the fourth year.

The teams, more than 25 with a total of 400 players from all over Ohio, came for two days of play and fun.

Every team in the league is welcome to attend the tournament, said Mark Eppard, the president of the Maumee Little League.

A typical game is two at-bats for every player. No one keeps score or tries to get someone out. Everyone gets five pitches before a buddy will help them hit the ball.

Every hit is a single except for the last batter of the inning, who always clears the bases with a home run, Mr. Eppard said. At season's end, everyone gets a trophy.

Maumee has several Challenger league teams that play Sundays at Ford Field during the summer.

Cheryl McCoy's boys, twins Bryce and Brendan, have played on the Dragsters eight years. “They have a lot of fun. They love playing ball, catching and hitting,” she said.

Bryce and Brendan have made friends on the team, including Bryce's buddy, Sharon Holtz, who helps Bryce navigate his wheelchair from base to base and who fields balls.

Despite their multiple handicaps, baseball is a part of their life. “When's the next game? When's the next game?” they'll ask constantly during the week, Ms. McCoy said.

The boys love the annual tournament: It's apparent from the way they beam at family and friends when the day is over and they've gotten their trophies. “That's all they'll talk about until next year,” Ms. McCoy joked. “They'll let everybody know about their tournament.”

Both said the best part of the weekend was playing ball, not the carnival games, or dunking booth, or dance Saturday. They kid Mrs. Holtz, Ms. McCoy, and Aunt Dizzy - Denise Navarre - about the game and Bryce teases that Mrs. Holtz pushed him too fast around the field.

Being on the team is about more than just having fun, though. “They learn so many new terms which you wouldn't get from school and home,” Ms. McCoy said. And they make friends. Team members attended the McCoys' 21st birthday party, and they'll have a pool party for everyone, since the season has ended.

“Everybody has something to offer, and these kids just want to go out and have fun,” Mr. Eppard said.



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