Challenger Baseball Wraps 19th Season With New Friends


On June 8, a sunshine-filled day at Lake Waterford Park, the Anne Arundel County Department of Recreation and Parks’ Challenger Baseball program closed its 19th season in spectacular fashion at Freedom Field. Players and families gathered to participate in the annual picnic and awards ceremony, followed by a feast of summer-favorite foods.

Anne Arundel County Challenger Baseball was created to give adaptive athletes, of any age, the opportunity to learn baseball skills and teamwork, as well as build social skills in a sports environment.

Terri Hamrick-Oeschger brought Challenger Baseball to the county. She’s also the program coordinator and coach. After nearly two decades, her enthusiasm and pure joy to be with the Challenger players and families only grows.

“It’s these kids. These kids and families keep me motivated and (Challenger Baseball) keeps them connected to the broader community,” Hamrick-Oeschger said. “I love this program and I am so happy to continue to be a part of it.”

Hamrick-Oeschger also has a personal connection. Her son, Tyler, was an adaptive baseball player until his death at the age of 15 in 2011. Tyler’s best friend, Guy Taylor, now 30, still plays Challenger Baseball and fondly remembers his best friend.

“I’ve played baseball for a long time. I played with Ms. Terri’s son!” exclaimed Taylor, who graduated from Severna Park High School and is known for his participation in unified tennis, bocci and bowling with the Falcons, as well as Special Olympics.

Challenger Baseball has grown to six teams in Anne Arundel County, including 22 players in South County and 60 players at Freedom Field. This year, the teams welcomed several local groups. As a team, Arundel High School baseball players attended Opening Day, along with several youth travel teams from Green Hornets for a scrimmage on June 1. That activity was arranged by former Severna Park High School baseball player and current Challenger Baseball volunteer Kasey Turnock, through Michael Phillips, Green Hornets baseball commissioner.

All the Challenger Baseball coaches, except for one, are parents. When other baseball or softball teams get involved, the reach of the adaptive program expands and the community awareness builds.

Kevin Lyons coaches a 15U Green Hornets travel baseball team. Lyons was thrilled by the opportunity to support the program even though initially he didn’t know what to expect. He even saw two families he knew but didn’t know their children were Challenger players.

“Our players and families had a great day scrimmaging the Challenger teams,” Lyons said. “The experience gave us all a different perspective and reminded us that with a healthy, happy family, we’ve got it pretty good.”

The coach added that his team looks forward to joining the Challengers again in the fall for a game or practice. “I believe it’s very important for our kids to put aside the demands of travel baseball or the frustrations of school for the love of the game,” he said. “We might have different abilities, but we all have the same love of the game.”

Dan Smulow coaches a 14U Green Hornets travel baseball team, and his son Jake volunteers with Challenger Baseball. Coach Smulow said he, his team, and parents had an amazing day playing with the adaptive players.

“As a coach and a father, I was thrilled to see everyone playing together, not worrying about the outcome, and just really having fun,” Smulow said. “No matter our age or ability, we are all just kids playing baseball. Challenger Baseball reminds us that baseball is bigger than simply baseball.”

Samantha Bartgis of Severna Park was thrilled, but not surprised, that the Green Hornets came out to play with the adaptive players, including her 8-year-old son, Mac.

“The Green Hornets organization does a really good job setting expectations of inclusion and sportsmanship,” said Bartgis, who added that Mac plays soccer and basketball with the Green Hornets, with coaches making sure her son is included and learning. “I wasn’t surprised at all that when the Green Hornets came to play with Challenger. Their top priority was sportsmanship and fun.”

Hamrick-Oeschger hopes the youth teams come back in the fall or next spring, and she would like to remind the public that any team, organization or individual is always welcome to play with the Challenger players. And, when they do, even after all these years, Hamrick-Oeschger will be there, too.

“My heart is here at Freedom Field and with these families,” she added. “I’m happy to continue to be part of this great program and community. I am not retiring anytime soon.”


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