Welcome to Little League® - Baseball, Softball and Challenger

Partners & Offers

 > Little League Online > Media > Little League News Archive > 2013 > January-April > Viva! Challenger: Pequeña Liga Fundacion Reto Is Venezuela’s First Little League Dedicated to Developmentally, Physically Challenged Children

Viva! Challenger: Pequeña Liga Fundacion Reto Is Venezuela’s First Little League Dedicated to Developmentally, Physically Challenged Children

Viva! Challenger: Pequeña Liga Fundacion Reto Is Venezuela’s First Little League Dedicated to Developmentally, Physically Challenged Children

El Reto

El Reto es impresionante! English translation: Challenger is Awesome!

Maracaibo, Venezuela has a rich Little League history, dating back to the 1950s. Pequeña Liga Fundacion Reto is the newest of the leagues in the city of three million, chartering in 2012; and is the country’s first solely dedicated to offering Little League to developmentally and physically challenged children.

“Luis Flores, our league president, had the idea and has been an inspiration for us all,. He has been involved in Little League for more than 21 years, with 6 of those as President of Coquivacoa Little League” said Richard Kauffman, Pequeña Liga Fundacion Reto’s Information Officer. “Getting others involved in Little League and rallying the excitement about Challenger has us quite optimistic about the future.”

Little League in Maracaibo is highly competitive and is recognized for the success enjoyed by Coquivacoa Little League. First chartered in 1955, Coquivacoa Little League has reached the Little League Baseball World Series in Williamsport, Pa., on nine occasions, winning the World Championship in 1994. Other Little Leagues in Maracaibo include Zulia Little League, which was the first league from the city to qualify for the Series (1965), Sierra Maestra Little League, 2000 World Series Champions; and La Victoria Little League, the Latin America representative in 2007.

El Reto2

Pequeña Liga Fundacion Reto is the first Challenger Division® chartered in Venezuela. Located in Maracaibo, Pequeña Liga Fundacion Reto has 35 players on two teams. The players enjoy a game every third Saturday of the month and practice the other Saturdays during their nine-game season.

With a wealth of Little League support and experience in close proximity, Mr. Kauffman, a native of Venezuela who returned to his home country in 1983 after graduation from the University of Arkansas (1982) with a degree in finance, explained how important it was to engage those people when plans started to be organized for a Challenger program.

“In the beginning (2011), a whole bunch of volunteers who are ‘Little League’ people got together to discuss the possibility of a adding the Challenger Division to an existing Little League or as a stand-alone division,” said Mr. Kauffman. “Right away, within the first few months of presenting the idea, we received support from parents and schools with children with disabilities. Quickly, we had a start-up group of kids. By 2012 we chartered a Challenger Division.”

“We decided to establish a stand-alone Challenger Division,” said Mr. Kauffman, a local Little League volunteer for the past 11 years and a current member of the country’s national Little League board of directors. “We went out on our own because we felt that since it was something new, being our own league would call more attention to the Challenger program.”

Being able to dedicate time and resources to the program was a big step for the league that services much of Maracaibo. This season, 35 players participated on two teams. The expectation for 2014 is to have enough players to field four teams.

“Sam (Ranck, Little League International’s Director of the Challenger Division) was very helpful,” said Mr. Kauffman. “He assisted us with the charter and was a great source of information.”

The motivation to provide for these children was evident, but Mr. Kauffman admitted that there has been a learning curve for the volunteers, parents and players. Mr. Flores, who has a nephew with special needs, is the only league volunteer with any first-hand experience.

“None of us have had a lot of experience working with physically and developmentally challenged children,” said Mr. Kauffman, a tax adviser by trade. “The key was to get people who knew Little League and wanted to do something different. Together, we’ve been introduced to several different types of disabilities and continue to learn about them, while promoting the opportunities that Challenger offers these children.”

This year, Pequeña Liga Fundacion Reto is playing a nine-game season, with one game every third Saturday of the month. The players practice on the Saturdays when games are not scheduled. Currently, the league is using a softball facility that Mr. Kauffman said is not adapted for Challenger players, but plans are being developed to make the field more disability-friendly.

El Reto3

Pequeña Liga Fundacion Reto has children of varying ages playing. Many of the children and their families travel extended distances, using public transportation, for the opportunity to participation in the league.

Media coverage from local radio, television and newspaper has helped to bring attention to the league, and funding from both private and public sources have aided the league’s operating budget and efforts toward upgrading its playing field in northern Maracaibo into fully accessible facility, dedicated Challenger Division.

“We have seen great improvement in the players,” said Mr. Kauffman. “The parents are the happiest, along with the kids. It was easy to get the community excited about the program and we’ve broken down some barriers by projecting the idea that boys and girls with disabilities are no different than anyone else.”

In May, at the Venezuelan National Little League Championships, a Challenger exhibition game was a featured event. Mr. Kauffman said the game was among the promotional efforts made to educate leagues outside of Maracaibo about what the Challenger Division is and how it operates. “We received a lot of encouragment from the national Little League board to participate in the event, and they have been very supportive of our initiative from the very beginning.”

Pequeña Liga Fundacion Reto players travel from more than 30 minutes away, often using public transportation, to participate in practices and games that begin at 8 a.m.

“We want more children to sign on,” said Mr. Kauffman. “We have the tools and have learned a lot about promoting ourselves. This is a good foundation for something that will last.”

To learn more about Pequeña Liga Fundacion Reto and see pictures from the league’s first season visit its Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube pages.

The Challenger Division was established in 1989 as a separate division of Little League to enable boys and girls with physical and mental challenges, ages 4-18, or up to age 22 if still enrolled in high school, to enjoy the game of baseball along with the millions of other children who participate in this sport worldwide. Today, more than 30,000 children participate in more than 900 Challenger Divisions worldwide, and the program will celebrate its 25th anniversary in 2014.

Teams are set up according to abilities, rather than age, and can include as many as 20 players. Challenger games can be played as tee ball games, coach pitch, player pitch, or a combination of the three.

For more information on the Little League Challenger Division, contact Sam Ranck, Director of the Challenger Division, at: ext.2254; or email challenger@LittleLeague.org. Follow the Challenger Division on Facebook.