By Melanie Petrucci, Senior Community Reporter
Shrewsbury – Members of the Shrewsbury High School (SHS) varsity baseball team recently volunteered their time to help out with the Shrewsbury Challenger Division of Shrewsbury Little League June 2 in Grafton.
The Challenger Division, now in its fifth year, is a baseball league for ages kids 5 to 18 (22, if enrolled in school) with physical and intellectual disabilities. Each player is matched with a volunteer peer “buddy.”
As a Little League coach, Chip Collins recognized the need for a program for those with special needs.
“It was the right time because Northborough and Millbury were starting up their leagues at the same time,” he said. “I was very familiar with it from Worcester.”
Since then, it’s become a family affair – his wife is a volunteer and his children have become buddies.
Lee Diamatopoulos, SHS guidance counselor and varsity baseball coach, shared, “It is evident that Chip and his family are the backbone of the Shrewsbury Challenger program.”
The program has proved beneficial for both the players and the buddies.
”My husband and I have both been coaches in central Massachusetts for 20 years,” said Lauren Chenevert, whose son Camden participates. “We wanted him to be involved in teams to get to know kids and to feel the benefits of sports – that’s how this was all born. People wanted their kids to be involved.”
“It’s a great opportunity for these kids lacking other social outlets and it give these kids a chance where there hadn’t been one,” said parent Tim Knight. His son, Ethan, was a program participant but is now a buddy.
“I love it,” said Ethan. “I get to work with a lot of cool kids…I learned sign language for a player on this team who is deaf. I just wanted to be able to communicate so I went on the internet to learn a couple of signs.”
Collins said that when the high school team showed up on June 2, the kids looked at them like they were celebrities. The buddies took a step back and the SHS team members organically gravitated to kids and mentored them for the day.
“It was a humbling experience to help kids who truly love the game of baseball,” said varsity player Tom Cue. “I know my teammates and I are just thankful to be put in the position to help the Challenger Baseball Program, and it’s an experience we will never forget.”
His teammate, John West, added, “The experience for me was an eye-opener. It was a true reminder of why we play. It’s not always about the wins and losses; it’s about having fun and loving the game. Being able to make new friends and seeing the smiles on each of the kids’ faces while they played, there’s not much like it.”
For more information, visit the Challenger Team on Facebook, www.facebook.com/ShrewsburyLL/posts/890891947746916