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July 9, 2013

YMCA Challenger League

VALDOSTA — The  Valdosta-Lowndes County YMCA began this year’s bowling Challenger League at Jac’s Lanes on Monday night.

The YMCA Challenger League is for boys and girls 5-21 (some age exceptions), with physical and mental disabilities. There is no cost to participants, whom receive a t-shirt and certificate of award.

The YMCA began the Challenger League in 1996 out of need for the concerned parents of children that could not play different sports like everyone else could because of a disability of some form.

“I think it’s wonderful that they offer that for children,” volunteer Nancy Sullivan said. “In a school setting they don’t get a chance to participate in anything.”

To help the athletes, the YMCA employs a “buddy” system and pairs each player with a volunteer that is at least nine years of age.

 This interaction has proven to be a positive experience for all involved and has resulted in lasting friendships.

Sullivan’s daughter, Teresa Fender, 21, is one of the Challenger League’s regulars. Sullivan and Fender have been with the program since the beginning.

“When Teresa was about four or five, I was at the health department in Nashville and some guy there just told me about it and that’s how we got started,” Sullivan said. “I don’t volunteer at each event, but most of the time I come to help out.”

 The most fundamental goal of the Challenger program is to give everyone a chance to play regardless of limitation. The YMCA’s philosophy is to help each child experience as much success as possible in a non-competitive environment.

The YMCA Challenger League is about more than playing a game.

The Challenger League is about making new friends, having fun, building self-esteem and being treated just like other kids.

Each person you meet at the Challenger League has a wonderful personality and story, perhaps none more so than seven-year-old Isaac Guilliams and his mother Ami.

The son of Valdosta State baseball coach Greg Guilliams, Issac was diagnosed with agenesis of the corpus callosum at the age of two. Corpus callosum is a condition that prevents both sides of the brain from working in sync with one another. Doctors told the Guilliams that Isaac would never be able to walk or speak.

“He really is a miracle,” Ami Guilliams said. “They told us he is always going to have a hard time with his expressive language; we can’t get him to shut up. He is a little chatterbox.”

According to Ami, Isaac has hit every developmental milestone along the way so far.

The Challenger League meets at Jac’s Lanes every Monday between July 8 - Aug. 12 with the awards given on Aug. 19.

In addition to bowling during Summer, the Challenger League organizes a different sport during each season throughout the year.

Fall basketball every Monday between Oct. 28 and Dec. 2 and Winter soccer every Monday between Feb. 4 and March 11 follow the bowling league, both sports are held in the YMCA gym. In Spring, baseball is played at Freedom Park each Monday between April 8 and May 13.

Events begin at 6 p.m. each day.

Cheryl Marshall, senior programs director at the YMCA is responsible for the Challenger League’s success. Marshall has worked with the Challenger League for the last 15 years.

Friend and fellow volunteer Connie Brown has been equally responsible for the program in her 11 years.

“Best 11 years of my life,” Brown said.

The Challenger League is completely funded by the United Way. Additionally, any YMCA program can be funded through scholarships including: memberships, gymnastics, swim team, swim lessons, and child care.

 Scholarships are selected upon perceived need.

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