League Dreams of a Field for Handicapped Players to Call Their Own

Local baseball organization Tinley Park Bobcats wants all players to be comfortable—and safe—taking the field at Bettenhausen Park. The group is raising money to build handicapped-accessible Challengers Field.

Credit: Challengers Field website, www.challengersfield.com
Credit: Challengers Field website, www.challengersfield.com
Josh Catoire is a member of a very exclusive club. 

A player in the Challengers baseball league, he is one of two in the group to send a ball sailing the 195 feet over the outfield fence at Bettenhausen Park. But that's all about to change. 

A group of parents and coaches from the Tinley Park Bobcats baseball league is raising funds to build a handicapped-accessible field for the Challengers—players with physical and mental disabilities. The field's footing will be made of rubber, to absorb crutches, walkers, wheelchairs, or unsteady gaits. The bases will be painted in place to prevent tripping. The dugouts will be larger and easier to access. 

And that elusive outfield fence? It will be a tad closer (115 feet) and just one swing away for most of the athletes. 

The Bobcats have raised $201,000 toward a field dedicated to the 50-plus Challengers players; they're just $60,000 shy of the total needed. Still, all signs point toward a special opening day May 18. The Challengers will have a field of their own, located at Bettenhausen Park, 16500 S. 76th Ave. in Tinley Park. The new field will be approximately 13,500 square feet of space. The effort is backed by State Sen. Michael Hastings and Tinley Park Mayor Ed Zabrocki. 

"We've been pecking away at this for 3 years," said Challengers president Denis Brown. 

The league welcomes players ages 5 through 30 years old, from Tinley Park, Orland Park, Oak Forest, Frankfort, Mokena, Evergreen Park and Steger. The Bobcats Organization, in its 40th year, covers the cost of each player in the Challengers league, including uniforms and trophies. Three teams compete in the league: the Cubs (ages 5 to 10), Sox (ages 11 to 16) and Angels (ages 17 to 27). Coaches pitch to the batters in the three-inning games, and there are no outs in play. 

The Challengers play other teams in the Bobcat organization, travel teams and even Andrew High School's varsity team. They take the field every Tuesday for 12 weeks, May through July. 

"These are their classmates," said Denis Murphy. "We try to make the children feel like they're really part of the program."

"With an accessible field, the special needs’ individuals in our Challengers’ division are able to enjoy America’s pastime in an environment void of obstacles," reads a mission statement on the Challengers Field website. "Our continual support of their desire to play baseball is only surpassed by their enthusiasm for the sport."

This year the organization has 50 members—but news of the field has other athletes ready to take to the field. Next year's roster should be closer to 75 players in total. 

Slugger Catoire is listed as a member of the Bobcats Homerun Club, on a sign that hangs over the Concession stand at the park. 

Murphy looks forward to adding more names. 

"That thrill of hitting a home run over the fence?" Murphy said. "We'll get another dozen kids who will have that."

Learn how to donate to Challengers Field. 


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