In 1989 Little League Baseball established the Challenger Division of Little League, a
program for youngsters with mental and/or physical disabilities. The typical disabilities
include developmental delays, Down syndrome, autism, cerebral palsy, spina bifida, etc.
Established in 1991, the Challenger Division of Little League in south Orange County has
grown steadily. In 2015, over 300 youngsters throughout south Orange County will
participate on Challenger teams from District 55 (Lake Forest, Newport Beach, Northwood,
& Rancho Niguel) and District 68 (Ladera Ranch, Rancho Mission Viejo, Rancho Santa
Margarita, & San Clemente). The regular season ends on May 17 with a "Closing Day
Games" celebration, bringing together all the teams from all the leagues in Districts 55 and
68. Off season participation will include the "Challenger Classic" at Angels Stadium in
early November, where 40 Challenger teams from various counties will play on the field at
The Junior Division Challenger teams, for youngsters age 5-12, play a 10 game schedule, 5
home, 5 away, usually scheduled between Major Division Little League games. The games
average two innings, with each player batting each inning. Some hit off the tee, some hit a
ball pitched by the coach. No score is kept. The emphasis is on fun, and on the opportunity
to learn skills. Parents and fans cheer for both teams throughout the game.
An important part of the Junior Division Challenger program is the "Buddy" system,
whereby Little League players (usually ages 11 and 12), in uniform, are paired one-on-one
with the Challenger players throughout the game, cheering them on, encouraging them,
helping out where needed, and, in general, helping the players have a good time. The
"Buddy" system also involves Middle School and High School volunteers who play an
essential role as "buddies" during weekly practice sessions.
The Challenger Division also includes the newly formed Senior League Challenger teams,
for players with developmental disabilities in Junior High, High School, and beyond. There<
is no upper age limit. Their schedule is similar to the Junior Division, with a few minor rule
changes to emphasize advanced skills and game awareness.
For more information, contact Dr. Darrell Burnett, Assistant District Administrator, Challenger
Division, California District 55 Little League, and District 68 Little League. (949) 495-3444.