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Challenger baseball, a joint effort by the Genesee ARC and The YMCA is wrapping up it’s seventh season Sunday, July 22nd. 

As WBTA's Ashley Hassett reports there is a lot to be learned from the team. 

You start your work as a volunteer with Challenger baseball thinking you’re there to help the players, but really they end up teaching you a thing or two.

Nicole Hirtzel was my partner this year and she had her hands full as I kept forgetting everyone’s name and the rules of the game, but luckily she was there to remind me. 

"You were helping me out there, huh?" said Hassett. 

"Yeah," said Nicole.

“Was I a good partner this year?” said Hassett.

“Yes!”said Nicole.

Challenger baseball was the first sport brought to Genesee County specifically tailored for children with disabilities. It’s a game where everyone keeps trying until they hit the ball,Challenger Baseball but don’t be fooled each player on the older kids team can hit the ball within the first three pitches.

Coach Marty Sabato talks about how the sport came to be. 

“I am the parent of a disabled child and we always drove into Buffalo to play challenger baseball and when my son turned 17 I thought it was time that we had something here in our own County. So I contacted Joe Teresi, he was on the board at the YMCA, so he had asked the Director at that time if we could play through the Y,” said Sabato.

And so with support from the multiple community organizations Challenger baseball began. Starting with two teams of players, it has grown to six teams now playing on Batavia’s minor league field.

Nicole’s Mom Liz Hirtzel talks about the very first game.

Challenger Baseball

“Every parent in there was crying, because you know they all have children that are in other sports. Like Danielle was in swimming so we got to go see hers, and they didn’t really have anything for the kids that can do it at their level with her peers. So it was awesome not have Nicolie just going to watch Danielle have a sport and not have one of her own,” said Liz.

Nicole Hirtzel or Nicolie as she’s called by those who know her best started on the team when it was first introduced with her sister Danielle taking the reins as her partner.

Her mom Liz said each year Nicolie continues to improve along with her teammates. 

“She’s more social now, she’s more confident. When she first started she didn’t know what she was doing with baseball, she loved it, but she didn’t know what she was doing, but I think she’s come a long way with it,” said Liz.

The lesson learned from Challenger baseball is that it’s not about being the fastest runner or a home run hitter, but it’s about being a team player and cheering your friends on for their hard work.

Oh and thanks to Nicolie I now remember the rules of baseball. 


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