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Ryan Roper leads off in the first inning of the first Dover Blue-White Challenger All-Star Game.
Jerry Smith

It’s challenging sometimes to get kids to even want to play baseball, let alone get excited about going to the ballpark.

That wasn’t the case on Saturday when 14 kids from the Camden-Wyoming Challenger League and the Kent County Community School got together to play in the Blue-White Challenger All-Star Game at Dover Little League Park.

One parent said her son has been excited about the game for a week, while another mother said her son had been ready to play since lunchtime.

The Blue-White All-Star Game was hosted by the First State Hornet 13U travel baseball team, in partnership with Little League International and the Dover Little League.

This was no ordinary all-star game as players and their “buddies” participated together on the field in the inaugural event.

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The Little League International Challenger Division was established in 1989 and aims to develop mentally and physically challenged boys and girls by giving them an opportunity to enjoy the full benefits of participation in a Little League program structured to their abilities.

Payton Dulin, a player on the Blue team, said he liked hitting best on Saturday, but just had fun playing with his friends and his buddy.

“My buddy taught me more about baseball today,” he said. “I had a lot of fun. I love baseball.”

That experience was a two-way street as the buddies got just as much out of the day as the players.

“It’s fun for him and me at the same time,” said First State player Tanner Lott, who was partnered with Ryan Roper. “I love helping him learn more about the game. Today was all about teaching him to be ready. At the end of the day, I told him just to have fun.”

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The players in the first Blue-White Challenger Division All-Star Game are introduced as they take the field on Saturday.
Jerry Smith/The News Journal

According to Sonya Dyer, the Camden-Wyoming Challenger Division accommodates participants ages 4 to 22, as long as they are enrolled in school. She said the Camden-Wyoming League has grown from seven players in 2015 to 38 this season. 

“This is a great opportunity to showcase what they can do,” Dyer said. “The buddies get to interact with the kids and the kids have a lot of fun. Love of baseball is very important.”

In addition to learning the game of baseball, the value of the Little League Challenger Division is found in the proven therapeutic and socialization benefits of participating in sports; the strengthening of participants’ self-esteem; and the showing of teamwork, sportsmanship and fair play.

For Paul Dutwin, coach of the First State Hornets 13U travel team and one of the organizers of the event, some of those same tenants resonate with his players as well. He said his players are happy to give back to the community as well as help fellow Little Leaguers. 

“We want our young men to know they need to give back to their communities,” he said. “We not only develop them to be class A ball players but also as good students and young men. The players and coaches feel it is the responsibility of all organizations to give back to their communities, and this is one way we can do that.”

The all-star players were given real baseball jerseys with an All-Star logo on the front and their name and number on the back. They also wore All-Star hats. All “buddies” and volunteers wore matching T-shirts as well. Barclays Card U.S. matched funds to pay for the jerseys and hats.

Before the game and during each at-bat, players were announced over the public address system, which Dutwin said made the experience even more special.

“This was a very special day for the players and everyone who helped,” he said. “We’re hoping we can learn from this and continue to hold this event so other kids can feel special.”

Reach Jerry Smith at jsmith17@delawareonline.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JerrySmithTNJ.