History of Challenger Baseball
In 2003, Challenger Baseball became a springtime rite at Georgetown Prep. The program was born of a simple need and the willingness of a few volunteers to rally the Prep community, its baseball team, and financial sponsors.
The need was for a recreational opportunity for physically and developmentally challenged youths and young adults. At that time, there was a shortage of sports programs for the disabled in the area. One volunteer program in Montgomery County had shown how baseball could fill that need, but when it ended, players were left with no place to play. Three couples with disabled children and ties to the Prep community stepped up to fill the void. Rick and Brenda Robinson, Dave and Maria Dudish, and John and Mary Depenbrock saw an opportunity for Georgetown Prep to provide the setting and the volunteers.
Prep quickly came aboard. Athletic Director Dan Paro agreed to host Challenger Baseball games on Prep's baseball field, then located where the Hanley Center has arisen. Prep's baseball coach then, Kirk Krikstan, decreed that the JV and Varsity baseball squads would serve as "Buddies" assisting the disabled on the field each Sunday in the spring. The coach then told his players that participation in Challenger Baseball was as important as their play for Prep. The organizers recruited additional "buddies" from local Catholic girls' high schools and found donors so they could offer the program free of charge.
In April 2003, Prep welcomed the first 23 special-needs players, aged 10 through 22. The format was simple: Bats and balls, but no outs and no scorekeeping. Each player on the two teams batted every inning, with his or her new high school buddies helping them to swat the ball, circle the bases, and then take to the field on defense. Challenger families cheered from the sidelines.
Thirteen seasons later, 49 players now form four co-ed Challenger teams, assisted by 100 high school volunteers. Many players, who learn of Prep's Challenger program through an informal special-ed network, return year after year. In fact, five were rookies on the first Challenger teams in 2003. Prep Baseball coach Chris Rodriguez reserves his players' Sundays for Challenger Baseball. An end-of-season awards banquet is an annual highlight.
Challenger players and their families are hardly the only beneficiaries. Prep baseball players and their co-ed partners from Holy Child, Stone Ridge, and Visitation (as well as Holy Cross and Good Counsel over the years), count Challenger as one of their most fulfilling memories from high school. Many are matched to the same Challenger player from their freshman through senior year, allowing special bonds to be built. "Buddies" often base college-entrance essays on their experience.
A community has grown up around Challenger Baseball, fostered by the steady guidance of Brenda and Rick Robinson, Prep's former school psychologist. Each spring, "Opening Day" has a special meaning for all the Challenger players and their families, the high school buddies, business sponsors and private donors who underwrite the program, and Prep baseball parents who coach and help organize the operations.