Little League Challenger Division was formed for all mentally and physically challenged children in 1986 so that they may have an opportunity to play and experience baseball in its purest form. Both boys and girls can enjoy the full benefits of Little League participation in an athletic environment, structured to their abilities. This league will accommodate participants ages 5-18, 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. More than the skills of baseball learned through the experience, the value of the Challenger Division is found in the proven therapeutic and socialization benefits of participating in sports, the strengthening of the participant's self-esteem, the opportunity to mainstream into other Divisions of play, and the disciplines of teamwork, citizenship and fair play that are hallmarks of this league’s program. Today, more than 30,000 players participate in more than 900 Challenger Divisions worldwide.
Today, New Mexico Little League Challenger Division offers disabled children the opportunity to play youth baseball on a real team, to learn the game and to create lasting friendships. No score is kept. Every player is a winner. Everyone has a turn at bat, advances through the bases, and takes a turn in the outfield. Teams are set up according to abilities, rather than age, and can include as many as 15-20 players. Challenger games can be played as tee ball games, coach pitch, player pitch, or a combination of the three. The Challenger players wear the same uniforms, shoulder patches and safety equipment as other Little League players. The wide range of abilities of Challenger participants will necessitate variations not only in the rules, but also in the philosophy of conventional baseball. One of the unique benefits of the Challenger Divisions is the use of the "buddy" system, whereby challenger players will be assisted by little league players, e.g., helping handicapped players in rounding bases. The buddies assist the Challenger players on the field, but whenever possible, encourage the players to bat and make plays them selves. However, the buddy is always nearby to help when needed. This buddy system has been a proven benefit in programs across the country in establishing good relationships between disabled and non-disabled players. Through the "buddies" program, Challenger League players are often paired with local little league ball players and volunteers from the community. In this way, the community is learning about inclusiveness, increasing their knowledge about children with disabilities and fostering community partnerships.
The Little League Challenger Division provides the framework so Little League Programs may offer a structured, athletic activity for all youth in their communities. Playing with the same equipment on the same fields, Challenger Division participants have the opportunity to experience the joys of pulling together as a team, being cheered, and earning awards for their achievements.