Music Review: Anthem for Challenger Baseball

Photo of the Challenger Baseball CD cover.

Challenger Baseball is a CD, a song and a game. First it was (and is) a division of Little League Baseball for kids of both genders who have physical or mental disabilities. Kids five-years-old through high school graduation play in teams that are arranged according to abilities. An alternate set of baseball rules are used that make the game truly about having fun. Keeping score is even discouraged.

Challenger Baseball then became a song, written by Tony Chironno, a Challenger director, manager and parent. He sent the lyrics to his longtime musician friend and the result is Challenger Baseball the CD, by Ben Rudnick and Friends. It has been endorsed by Little League Baseball.

The CD is of course oriented toward Challenger families, but has a number of other Rudnick classics, including my 3-year-old daughter’s favorites, Macaroni and Cheese, Grace’s Bell, I Need a Hand, and I Like Silver, I Like Gold.

The band’s style slants toward bluegrass or folk music with an accordion in tow, a nebulous sound that’s difficult to label.

Challenger retails for only $10, and is available for team fund raising at just $4 a pop with free shipping. CDs that don’t get sold and are still in new condition can be shipped back for full reimbursement. I swear it’s gestures like that which give me hope for humanity.

Ben Rudnick has another new CD out, Grace’s Bell, which is full of similar bluegrass jamming goodness.

Below is the story of the song co-author’s autistic son and their involvement in Challenger Baseball, converted from PDF from BenRudnick.com:

Tony & Nicky Chironno’s Personal Challenger Baseball Success Story

I am sometimes asked how my son, Nicky, and I got involved with Challenger Baseball. It started back in 2002, when we enrolled in the Challenger Division of the Lindenhurst American Little League. We heard about the program from a neighbor. We enrolled Nicky with little expectation of him being able to socialize or play in a game as Nicky was not interactive with others – a common trait of autistic children. As I indicated on the registration form that I was willing to help out any way I could, I found myself being a first-time Coach.

way I could, I found myself being a first-time Coach. At first, Nicky wasn’t very attentive to the game, often self-stimming (indulging in repetitive motions, such as flapping a string in front of his eyes, and concentrating on that exclusively), as were many other autistic children.

The Challenger Directors, Carolyn and Joe Jankowski, had more success than I in getting Nicky to play and take a turn at bat. As with some of the other players, Nicky would play for half the game and then sit in the dugout watching the other players. Just by sitting in the dugout, benefits were being reaped. Nicky was watching, learning, and comprehending the basics of taking turns, encouraging others, cheering each other on, and especially the development of new friendships amongst peers.

As much of a benefit Challenger Baseball is for the children involved, the parents and guardians of the children benefit as well. Parents get together during each game and share their experiences with programs, treatments, and other topics related to the children’s autism. New relationships have arisen between families of autistic children and mutual support is realized between these families.

Since 2002, Nicky has yearned for his independence while on the ball field, wanting to hit and field the ball by himself. Surprisingly, he has succeeded. His success on the ball field has crossed over into his daily lifestyle. The skills he learned on the ball field has allowed him to better interact socially at home, school, and while in public. I know of no other program that builds companionship and the social skills for autistic children, than Challenger Baseball.

~ Tony Chironno is the coauthor of "The Challenger Baseball Song"

[The Challenger Baseball and Grace's Bell CDs were submitted to Thingamababy for review.]

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