‘Life-changing’ fun

Playing baseball with Challenger kids a joy for JUCO players

Cowley players form a human tunnel for players to run through Thursday during the final innings of the Challenger Baseball game at Canyon View Park. Members of the Tigers’ baseball team playing in the Alpine Bank Junior College World Series were buddies to Challenger players.



San Jacinto College-North’s Kaleb Roper, left, and Tristan Metten, right, cross home plate Thursday night with Patrick Gleason during the Challenger Baseball game at Canyon View Park. The two Gators players were buddies to Gleason and escorted him around the bases after a home run.



The Dyersburg State Community College (Tennessee) baseball team is used to making a difference in its community.

The Eagles volunteer with the local Kiwanis Club, give out Christmas gifts to local families in need and host a “haunted trail” during Halloween to raise money for local charities.

So when Dyersburg coach Robert White heard about the opportunity to bring his team to the Alpine Bank Junior College World Series Challenger Baseball game at Canyon View Park on Thursday, he didn’t hesitate.

“It’s a privilege just to get to the World Series,” White said. “But to be able to get to do something like this for the kids is unbelievable.”

Dyersburg joined San Jacinto College-North (Texas), Cowley College (Kansas) and McLennan Community College (Texas) as buddies for the 19th-annual JUCO Challenger Game, which marks the end of the 1 1/2-month long Challenger Baseball season in Grand Junction. Dyersburg, a first-time JUCO qualifier, was a last-minute selection for the Challenger game.

The Eagles couldn’t wait.

“It was just like the movie ‘Jerry Maguire.’ ” Challenger Director Carma Brown said. “It was like that speech that ended with ‘You had me at hello.’ They were ready to go and I still went on and on for, like, another 20 minutes.”

JUCO and local teams jump at any chance to work with Challenger kids. Colorado Mesa University baseball players are regular buddies.

Everyone involved in Challenger events makes the most of the experience.

“We heard a lot about it before the tournament, how good of a deal it was and how life-changing something like this could be,” McLennan freshman pitcher Logan Freeman said. “Just to see these kids come out and play the same game we do every day is really eye-opening and encouraging.”

Freeman, along with McLennan sophomore pitcher Garett Spencer, teamed up as buddies to 9-year-old Annabell Barnhill. She was born with spina bifida, which forces her to use leg braces and a walker for mobility.

Her condition didn’t keep her from catching every ball while playing catch with Spencer. It also didn’t keep her from hitting a grand slam and, with Spencer’s help, sprinting around the bases.

“I’m a real good hitter,” she said matter-of-factly.

Annabell had two siblings who had San Jacinto buddies — her older brother, Isaiah, was born with fetal alcohol syndrome, and her older sister, 15-year-old Audry, was born with a brain disorder. Their mother, Susan, adopted all the children and recently moved to Grand Junction from the Colorado Springs area.

“To come out here and see them smile, laughing and happy and doing things that everyone else in the world is able to do is an amazing thing to see,” she said.

Susan witnessed a hard-hit ball from Audry, whose comebacker smacked San Jacinto’s Herbert Iser in the shoulder. Stunned and dazed, Iser’s eyebrows shot skyward as the public address announcer emphatically, and jokingly, said the ball’s exit velocity was 109 miles per hour.

Audry was a good sport about it — she later went to Iser and asked if he was OK.

“What I think is awesome is how every little deed you do can make such a huge difference to these kids, even if it includes getting hit by a ball in the shoulder,” Iser said with a laugh.


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