After their son Aiden had played in it for years, a spring without the Challenger Baseball League just wasn’t an option for Kevan and Megan Browne when they moved to the area.
But after spending their first official baseball season in Sussex County traveling back and forth to Maryland, accounting for more than five hours of drive time every Saturday, the Brownes are bringing the league — designed for special needs players ages 5 to 18 — to Delaware.
“He would start asking like Wednesday, and at the time, gas was like 4 bucks a gallon,” explained Kevan Browne of how important the league became to his son. “It was five hours in the car and 100 bucks in gas for an hour-and-a-half baseball game, but he loved it.”
While the league is, of course, designed for the players, the adult Brownes have enjoyed it equally, forming friendships within the community that span much further than the baseball diamond. It’s that type of camaraderie that they aim to establish in Sussex County.
“We need that here,” said Megan Browne. “All the parents need to get to know each other and come together and talk about school and IEP’s and ‘What’s your kid eat?’ [Kids] all have such little quirks and to share that with people that understand your life is very therapeutic.”
The dugout chatter between parents in the Brownes’ former league in Maryland ended up escalating to things like taking the kids to sensory-friendly movie nights, bowling nights and even a kickball league in the fall.
“We all kind of bonded, and then in the fall we all kind of missed each other,” Browne explained. “Since everybody’s kind of in the same boat, it’s just an outlet — the parents get to hang out with other parents, and it’s fun. It’s just as much for us as it is for them.”
The Brownes are hoping that the Challenger League can serve as a jumping-off point for such bonding in Delaware, noting that the atmosphere of the inaugural season at LSLL will be just as lax as the games themselves.
In fact, after safety, the only concern of the league is fun. There are no balls and no strikes, and they don’t keep score. If a kid can’t hit pitches, then they break out the tee. If they don’t know how to swing a bat, then their buddy helps. Even if someone misses a game, it’s not a big deal.
“It’s really not competitive,” explained Kevan Browne. “Everybody hits, everybody moves one base at a time, then the last guy up each inning gets to hit a home run and clear the bases. After safety, the biggest concern is making sure the kids have a good time.”
One of the main concerns for parents, according to the Brownes, is their uncertainty as to whether or not their son or daughter is right for the league or would be able to participate. But like most everything else about the league — it’s no worries. The league is designed to accommodate nearly anyone, regardless of what their condition may be, whether it’s Down syndrome, brain injuries, physical injuries, wheelchairs, autism or anything else.
“It’s the full spectrum,” explained Kevan Browne. “From kids who probably could have played in regular leagues ability-wise but emotionally they couldn’t handle the pace and the competitiveness of the game.”
“There’s no issue that we won’t handle,” Megan Browne said. “It’s so relaxed, and it’s so accommodating.”
While, for their inaugural season, they’re hoping to field enough players to field two teams — playing in locations from LSLL to Georgetown and beyond, depending on where their players come from — there are still some big plans set forth for this spring.
Not only has the district approved a Challenger League game to take place at this year’s Little League World Series, but possible outings to Perdue Stadium and even the Delmarva Shorebirds coming out to be players’ buddies are also in the works.
As for other buddies, the league is always looking for volunteers, but usually it comes down to the parents.
“We train the buddies how to be buddies, to keep the kids safe,” Megan Browne said. “We let the kids pick who they want, so there’s not a lot of anxiety. It’s all about whatever is best for the kids — it’s totally normal, it’s totally expected, we all get it.”
Registration for the league is open at www.lowersussexlittleleague.com and costs only $25. There will also be several in-person signups held, including the one on Saturday, May 2, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Lower Sussex Little League Complex. There will be another registration held the following Saturday, May 9, at the same times, at the Georgetown Little League Concession Stand.
For any questions regarding the league, send Kevan and Megan Browne an email at LLSLChallengerDivision@gmail.com.