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Rising to the Challenge

WESTWOOD, Ky. - Maybe Abner Doubleday didn't have the Challenger League in mind when he invented the game of baseball, but, then again, maybe he did.

The Challenger League offers disabled children a chance to participate in baseball much like their counterparts in the traditional little leagues. But in this league, anyone can play and the only rule is you must have fun.

"This is baseball at its purest," said Annette Worland of Ashland who coaches in the league with Mike Gregory. "These kids enjoy every part of the game all the time."

Gregory has coached since the league's inception in 1999, thus making it the first of its type in Kentucky. He said the league is for youths ages 5 to 21 who are from Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia.

"Any kids can play no matter what their disadvantage," Gregory said.

From start to finish, players enjoyed hitting the ball and running the bases. Tarren Banks of Louisa had two good reasons to be excited: He slugged a pair of home runs.

"It felt good. I liked it. I hit a home run over the fence," Banks said.

Tarren's parents, Tana and Fred Banks, missed a home run their son hit earlier this season due to their daughter's graduation.

"I finally got to see one," the smiling mom told her son.

Jacob Scott of Ironton strolled to home plate in style. He had a royal blue helmet with the name "Jake" across the front in green courtesy of his mother, Tammy Scott.

"Mom had to get it for him," said Jacob's father, Mike Scott.

Jacob got a hit and nearly popped a wheely in his motorized wheelchair as he took off for first base.

Although he's a huge Kentucky basketball fan, Jacob loves baseball, too. He said his favorite team is "the Reds," and he has a poster of slugger Adam Dunn, a contrast to the type of player Jacob is at the plate.

"I'm a singles hitter. I like hitting the ball," Jacob said.

Jarrett Osborne of Ironton is in his third season.

Although he admits NASCAR is his favorite sport, he also enjoys baseball

"I like coming out and playing," Osborne said. "I like NASCAR, but baseball is up there."

Another player from Ironton is Evan McMackin, who got a base hit and eventually circled the bases and slid into home plate.

"I like to slide," Evan said.

It wasn't hard to understand why Evan loves baseball since his father, Pat McMackin, is a big baseball fan.

Evan said he likes the Reds and his favorite player is outfielder "Wily Mo" Pena.

"I like baseball," Evan said.

There are four teams in the league and a schedule is posted, but Pat McMackin said "they let whoever shows up play."

A national tournament will be held in Virginia next summer and teams were be paired according to ability.

Tarren Banks has already been involved in a higher level of competition. He recently won his fourth straight home run derby championship at the event held in Indianapolis.

Worland, who works with special needs children, is on the local little league board and helped launch the Challenger League and has been involved with it every year.

Gregory said he initially became involved because his wife and daughter worked with special needs children.

"We knew there was a need. There are no organized activities after school or during the summer for these children," Worland said.