Rising to the challenge - The Explorer: Sports

Rising to the challenge

Local baseball team of disabled athletes makes trip to national series

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Posted: Tuesday, September 2, 2008 11:00 pm | Updated: 8:01 am, Thu Mar 24, 2011.

Once-in-a-lifetime moments come wrapped in many guises. Nick Meyerowitz recognized his right off the bat.

After feeling the satisfying “thump” of baseball against leather, the Canyon Del Oro High School sophomore stared down at the line drive ball he’d caught in his baseball glove, atop the Little League World Series pitcher’s mound.

“That catch was nuts,” Meyerowitz, 15, said. “I just put out my mitt and, ‘Wow!’”

Luck played into that snag, of course. But when the Williamsport, Pa., crowd lit up, everyone on the field felt like a winner.

For the Tucson Challenger Little Leaguers — who compete despite physical and mental disabilities — that was exactly the point.

Meyerowitz and 12 teammates, along with family and coaches, flew out to the series to play an Aug. 23 exhibition game against a Challenger team from Houston.

The Tucson squad featured kids best suited for the long flight, said team manager Richard Ferber, whose son — and Meyerowitz’ best friend — Justin Fetzner, also made the trip.

Of those players, many disadvantages were represented — from deafness to severe attention deficit disorder, from prosthetics to chair athletes.

Meyerowitz and Fetzner both suffer from cerebral palsy.

“We couldn’t bring everybody,” Ferber said. “That was the hardest part, picking everyone. But it was a good representation.”

Little League officials smiled on hosting the kids when Tucson Challenger assistant district administrator Bill Fields pitched the idea last fall.

The only hitch — the Old Pueblans had to fund the trip themselves.

But if selecting from over 200 players seemed tough to Ferber, at least fundraising went easier. Donors including the Tucson Conquistadores flexed their muscle and raised $43,000.

“There’s a lot of generous people in this town,” Fields said. “People helped us out quite a bit.”

The kids styled as they walked onto the field, outfitted with new uniforms and embroidered equipment bags.

Upon return, those new cases were filled with autographed baseballs, hat pins and all the swag marking the Little League World Series’ unofficial pastime: pack-ratting.

It all adds up to a lot of memories, lining the players’ bedroom shelves — and digital cameras — on which Meyerowitz displayed photos of himself wooing flight attendants and batgirls.

“I think these kids need that opportunity, to experience something they’ll never forget,” Fields said.

For his own efforts to advance Challenger’s venues, Fields received Little League Baseball’s 2008 Challenger Award.

And the game went smoothly enough, in Challenger fashion.

Nearly every umpire available volunteered to work the game, as the squads followed their minor-league divisions’ rules. Every player batted and scored a run — though parents set scorecards aside.

Players swing as much baseball skill as their physiology allows in Challenger play. When abilities run short, parents help bat and round the bases — sometimes manually sliding them into home plate.

“We want everybody to play and have fun,” Ferber said. “We try to do what the name says — we challenge the kids.”

At the Meyerowitz home, friendly competition is the norm, where the grade-school pals constantly prod each other into activity.

The two exchange hugs frequently. And when Meyerowitz’ offers to demonstrate his Guitar Hero expertise falls flat, the pair bolt outside for backyard hoops.

Meyerowitz — with his 6’ 3” stature, size 15 shoe and eager jump shot — seems practically born under the rim. The less-verbose Fetzner, a CDO senior who throws and catches with his right arm, races Tour de Tucson and loves soccer.

And just days after returning from the Williamsport trip, both turned their efforts to a Special Olympics bowling event.

“They’re jocks,” said Meyerowitz’ father, Jerry.

Still, the average athlete doesn’t have that special perspective, to be tickled by a hotel elevator ride or swimming pool — the little things that frosted the Challenger’s trip.

The team even managed to squeeze in a trip to a nearby amusement park — where a swinging pendulum-type ride drained the color from Nick’s face. He found Williamsport’s Little League food more favorable.

“It was, like, the bomb! It only took them two minutes,” Nick Meyerowitz said.

A 120-second hot dog, to the vendor. To the kids, five days to last a lifetime.

“Basically it exceeded all of our expectations,” Jerry Meyerowitz said. “Just amazing.”

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HS Schedule

Tuesday, September 16

Boys Golf (@ 3 p.m.)

Buena, Cienega at Marana

Mountain View, Ironwood Ridge, Catalina at Amphi (Silverbell GC)

Catalina Foothills, Pueblo, Sahuarita at Sahuaro

Girls Volleyball (Fr 4 p.m., JV 5 p.m., Var 6 p.m. unless otherwise noted)

Mountain View at Rio Rico

Ironwood Ridge at Glendale Ironwood

Swimming (@4 p.m.)

Pusch Ridge, Sahuarita at Desert Christian

Wednesday, September 17

Girls Golf (@ 3 p.m.)

Rincon at CDO

Ironwood Ridge, Desert View at Flowing Wells (Silverbell)

Cross Country (@4:30)

Salpointe at Catalina Foothills

Palo Verde, Nogales at Marana

Rincon, St. Gregory at CDO

Sahuarita, Pueblo, Pusch Ridge at Desert View

Girls Volleyball (Fr 4 p.m., JV 5 p.m., Var 6 p.m. unless otherwise noted)

Empire at Marana (4:30, 5:30, 6:30)

CDO at Queen Creek

Cienega at Mountain View

Sahuaro at Catalina Foothills

Walden Grove at Pusch Ridge

Thursday, September 18

Girls Golf

CDO, Ironwood Ridge at Phoenix Aguila Invitational (all day)

Boys Golf

Sahuaro and Salpointe at Ironwood Ridge

CDO, Rincon, Sunnyside at Tucson High

Girls Volleyball (Fr 4 p.m., JV 5 p.m., Var 6 p.m. unless otherwise noted)

Marana at Sahuarita

Ironwood Ridge at Sahuaro (4:30, 5:30, 6:30)

Catalina Foothills at Rincon

Pusch Ridge at San Manuel

Swimming (4 p.m.)

Marana vs. Tucson at Quincy Douglas Pool

Cienega at Marana

CDO, Ironwood Ridge at Amphi

Catalina Foothills at Sahuaro

Freshman Football (all games at 6 p.m. unless otherwise noted)

Flowing Wells at Marana (4 p.m.)

Desert View at Mountain View

Cienega at CDO

Ironwood Ridge at Buena

Catalina Foothills at Sahuarita

JV Football (all games at 6 p.m. unless otherwise noted)

Amphi at Marana

Santa Cruz Valley at Pusch Ridge

Mountain View at Desert View

CDO at Cienega

Buena at Ironwood Ridge

Sahuarita at Catalina Foothills

Friday, September 19

Boys Golf

Catalina Foothills, Ironwood Ridge, CDO, at Phoenix Aguila Invitational (all day)

Cross Country

Mountain View, Ironwood Ridge at Mt. Carmel Invitational (San Diego, CA)

Girls Volleyball

CDO at Westwood Tournament of Champions

Football (@7 p.m.)

Pusch Ridge at Santa Cruz Valley

Catalina at Marana

Desert Vista at Mountain View

Ironwood Ridge at Buena

Cienega at CDO

Catalina Foothills at Sahuarita

Saturday, September 20

Boys Golf

Catalina Foothills, Ironwood Ridge, CDO, at Phoenix Aguila Invitational (all day)

Cross Country

Marana at Old Pueblo Invite(Lincoln Park)

Mountain View at San Diego

Catalina Foothills, CDO at Ojo Rojo (Chandler, AZ)


Marana at Wolves Classic (Chandler High)

Girls Volleyball

CDO at Westwood Tournament of Champions


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