Challengers’ Division drawing big crowds at Vidalia Youth SoftballPublished 12:01am Saturday, May 26, 2012
Vidalia — As 15-year-old Shelby Brady rounded third base Thursday night at the Vidalia Youth Softball Complex, her eyes lit up.
She heard the roar of the crowd that overflowed out of the bleachers and filled in all the way down the fence to the outfield.
As she touched home plate and headed back to the dugout, congratulations came from teammates, opponents, fans and coaches. It was Brady’s second time to cross the plate in the game, and both runs received the same reaction.
“I like hitting, because it’s fun,” Brady said after the game.
Brady was not the only player that had a big night offensively Thursday. In fact, each player on both the green team and the blue team had their opportunity to get the feeling of scoring a game-winning run with fans screaming at the top of their lungs — twice.
Brady is a member of the blue team in the Challengers’ Division of the Vidalia Youth Softball League that features special needs athletes.
The league is in its infancy, but it already draws the biggest crowds on Tuesday and Thursday nights when the teams take the field.
“It’s going wonderful so far,” League Director Greg Young said.
Green team head coach Stephanie Bourke said the league provides a place for athletes who cannot play in the youth leagues.
“(The league) is so good,” Bourke said. “Vidalia is not big into Special Olympics, and this gives them an opportunity to compete at their ability level and do what they can.”
Bourke has been a special education teacher for 12 years and said when Young approached her with the opportunity to coach she did not hesitate.
“It’s something that’s very special for me,” she said.
Bourke’s son M.J. plays on the green team, and she said his favorite part of playing softball is sliding at each base he reaches.
Young said each player is allowed to hit twice each game and can use a tee or hit coach pitch. Each batter hits once in each inning and there are no outs and no score. Players are accompanied by a “buddy” that helps them run bases and field their positions.
Brady is one of the players that chooses to throw away the tee during her at-bats, and she collected two hits Thursday night.
The green team’s Holden Ferrington, 14, also chooses to hit live pitching, and he said he really enjoys playing in front of the screaming crowds.
“It’s exciting,” he said. “I think ball is a good sport.”
The game is not all about offense, however, and Maggie Burns of the blue team said she prefers playing first base.
“I like defense,” Burns said. “It’s so much fun. It’s fantastic.”
Burns said she also likes running the bases, and she loves to watch Mississippi State University play baseball and softball.
Blue team coach Whitney Bradford said her players enjoy being with one another just as much as playing the game.
“All the kids love being around the other kids,” she said.
Bourke said the two teams would face each other seven times this season.
The Challengers’ Division, which features players as young as 4 all the way to players in their 20s, is still open for any new players that want to join, Young said.
“We’re hoping more people find out about it, and whatever they need to do to sign up they can. It’s an open registration,” Young said.
For more information or to register for the league call Young at 601-870-6003.