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Northboro, Shrewsbury Challenger teams celebrate the game under the lights

A player shows his muscles to one of the coaches. (Photo/Laura Hayes)

NORTHBOROUGH — Last week, the Shrewsbury and Northborough Challenger baseball teams met under the lights of Casey Field in Northborough.

The game, which took place last Thursday, marked the first time the teams played under the lights at night.

When the players arrived they had big smiles and were ready to play.

“To play a night game – a game under the lights is huge,” said Shrewsbury coach Chip Collins. “It just means so much.”

The region’s Challenger Division dates back 8 years

Founded in 1989, Little League Challenger is an adaptive program for players with intellectual and physical challenges.

Shrewsbury’s Challenger Division was formed in 2014. Last week’s game then featured older players who were there from the start.

Camden Chenevert initially played in Shrewsbury Little League on Collins’ teeball coaching pitch team.

“I convinced his mom and dad to let him play on my team,” Collins recalled. “We let him come up, tee off the tee, do the mate thing and run around the bases.”

Chenevert played with the team for a few more years until the minor league became what Collins described as slightly more competitive baseball.

“As he got older, we couldn’t figure out how to make baseball fun for him while also being safe,” Camden’s mother, Lauren, said.

So Challenger was launched in Shrewsbury.

Lauren wanted to involve her school friends.

“It was a great opportunity to bring everyone in the community together,” she said.

The community at Shrewsbury Little League was “amazing” because the kids were supportive of Camden, Lauren said.

“We wanted everyone to feel that kind of love in the community,” she said.

This is how Challenger works

The Challenger program pairs players with a volunteer buddy.

The buddies are usually a middle or high school student who is there to help the players.

This may include helping players run the bases. As Collins described it, a lot of a chum’s job involves socialization.

Commitment is important for buddies. Last week, middle school age friends gathered for their Challenger game immediately after the games and practices.

“They are just as dedicated as the coaches,” Collins said.

When Collins and the Cheneverts wanted to start the Challenger League in Shrewsbury, so did Northborough.

Coach Jim Furlong said Northborough had 12 players in his freshman year.

Now Northborough and Shrewsbury teams play other groups in Westborough and Grafton on Saturdays.

Between the four cities, Collins estimates there are about 100 players playing throughout the season.

“I love the kids’ facial expressions,” Furlong said. “I love the intensity. They are all ball players and they are here to play.”

“I love to see it,” he continued. “I love it when a play is filmed.”

Ryan Summers, who played for the Northborough team, has been playing for eight years.

“If you want to play baseball and you’re disabled, you can play here,” Ryan said with help from his sister. “It is welcome to everyone.”

As the players got to the bat, Furlong introduced them to nicknames like “Superman.”

Jayden Baez’s nickname is “Muscles”.

As his mother explained to Randi, one of the other trainers started using the nickname “muscles” even though it was interchangeable with “noodles”.

“He has the skinny arms,” ​​she said.

She continued, “But he just loves the muscles he thinks he has. So you say that and he gets so excited.”

It lights a fire beneath him, Randi said.

“I don’t think they get the typical opportunities that a lot of kids get — to be under the lights at Shrewsbury High School or Algonquin or Grafton High School to play a game — and they hear their names over the intercom,” he said Lauren . “I think that’s something special for every kid.”

Players feel this is their time and stage, which is important for any athlete, she added.

While a milestone was celebrated last week, Challenger organizers emphasize that this will certainly not be the last time local Challenger teams host a night game under the lights.

“We’re definitely going to do this every year,” Furlong said. “It was magical.”

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