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For Glen Oaks dad Dennis Noonan, few things have been more gratifying than going to bat for his community’s special needs children who want to play ball.
The director of the Glen Oaks Little League Challenger Division put a pitch out to northeast Queens this week with hopes of scouting teams for the third consecutive year.
“It has been one of the most rewarding experiences,” Noonan said. “Picture yourself winning a championship and picture doing that 13 times during the season.”
Glen Oaks Little League has been a stable institution for more than 60 years in Queens, but launched the free Challenger Division in 2011 to offer playing time to the area’s special needs players. Since its first season, the league said enrollment had risen from 28 kids to 65 and beyond.
“Just batting and hitting the ball, puts a smile on these children’s faces,” said Jodi Aronoff, co-director of the Glen Oaks Little League Challenger Division. “Even in the field when they try to catch the ball and throw it to first base.”
The entire division was paid for by the Steven Petillo Field of Dreams Foundation, according to the league, in honor of the Floral Park 9-year-old who died in a car accident in 2010. Last year, Glen Oaks Little League Vice President Mike Petillo announced the Challenger Division would be free to the community because his son was always interested in giving back and playing ball.
Noonan, who was born and raised in Glen Oaks and played in the league as a kid, said the new endeavor also provided a great chance for his two children with special needs to learn baseball basics.
“These kids won’t make it to the majors, but to see a child who can’t hold the bat at the beginning of the season and end up swinging at the end is amazing,” Noonan said. “It’s the minor stuff that most major leaguers would take for granted that are major accomplishments for these kids.”
Noonan, who had experience as a coach and has worked with Glen Oaks Little League for nearly a decade, saw this latest addition as an invaluable asset to the Queens community.
The Challenger Division accepts all types of special needs children, including those on the autistic spectrum, Down syndrome youngsters and physically challenged children in wheelchairs, Noonan said.
But when they take the field, they are nothing but ballplayers.
Each child gets a chance to bat and play the field and has the option of either being pitched to or hitting the baseball off a tee. There are never any strikeouts, the league said.
This year, Noonan said the Challenger Division will kick off its first workout on the morning of April 6 at PS 115, at 80-51 261 St., with the season beginning the following week, April 13, with its signature Opening Day parade.
Anyone interested in joining the Glen Oaks Little League Challenger Division or learning more can e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reach reporter Phil Corso by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718-260-4573.
©2013 Community Newspaper Group
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