Making dreams a reality: Celebration Little League hosts Florida Challenger Jamboree

Little League baseball fever is once again heading to Central Florida.

The Celebration and South Orange Little League organization is honored to be hosting the 10th Annual Florida Challenger Jamboree for the second year in a row. The two-day tournament will be at the South Orange Sports Complex in Orlando on Nov. 10-11.

The Challenger Division of Little League International encourages athletes with special needs or disabilities to learn how to play baseball.

For many children and young adults with special needs or other physical and intellectual disabilities, playing a team sport may seem out of the realm of possibility. Little League wanted to do what it could to make that dream a reality for every child.

Little League created the Challenger Division in 1989 and it has since become one of the predominant sports leagues for the special needs community.

“These athletes instantly transform from being shy and self-conscious into confident, amazing athletes the minute they put on their uniforms and take to the fields,” said Kathy Whitmire, Challenger Jamboree organizer and Celebration Little League volunteer. The coolest thing to hear is that they are ‘just like’ their siblings because they play a sport too.”

Challenger athletes range in age from 4 to 18 years old. More than 400 athletes and their families from all over the state are expected to attend this year’s Jamboree.

According to the Florida Challenger Jamboree website, the Jamboree consists of Challenger athletes playing together with volunteers who ensure that the athletes are safe, while they form lifelong friendships through the smiles and laughter that are always present on the fields.

Celebration will be bringing 30 out of their 50 athletes to participate. St. Cloud will be bringing 25 out of their 50 athletes.

Besides the tournament style baseball games, there will be a carnival area set up for the athletes and their families to enjoy in between games. On Saturday night, the Rosen Shingle Creek Resort is hosting the Florida Challenger Jamboree to continue the festivities in style.

Rosen Shingle Creek Resort “partnered with us so that the kids can have a big dinner and dance in one of the beautiful ballrooms,” said Whitmire.

The Florida Challenger Jamboree is an event that promises to create happy memories to last a lifetime.

“Every game gives me a new favorite memory,” said Whitmire. “One of the most touching memories I have is finding a dad crying in the ballfield parking lot after our second set of games back in 2007. I stopped to ask him what was wrong and he replied, ‘I never thought I would see my son play baseball.’”

The Florida Challenger Jamboree is still in need of a number of volunteers to help make this year’s Jamboree a success. Volunteer positions needed include announcers, carnival game attendants and field buddies.

“You do not need to have any baseball experience,” said Whitmire. “Just a huge smile and a bigger heart!”