Matt Steiner

Matt Steiner, The Gazette

Stephen Robinson reached toward the sky, shiny trophy in hand.

It was his smile, however, that made even the summer sun seem a bit dim.

The pure joy that beamed from Robinson on this June morning at El Pomar baseball field No.2 drew a clamor of cheers from the crowd.

They, too, were smiling after watching the season finale of the Colorado Springs Little League's Challenger Division for physically and mentally challenged children.

"If it doesn't touch you a little bit," league founder and commissioner Roger Hamilton said with a smile, "it's amazing."

Robinson, a die-hard Rockies fan with cerebral palsy, finally could call himself a baseball player, along with 22 other children, thanks to the efforts of Hamilton and a pack of volunteers.

"It's just been great," said Melissa Volkmann, whose son Russell battles Asperger syndrome. "(Russell) wouldn't be able to join in a typical Little League game. It means so much for these kids to come out and have a chance to be cheered."

The cheering began in May, but the vision came in October 2007 when Hamilton heard about the program, which Little League started in 1989 with five experimental divisions and since has expanded throughout the U.S. and Canada.

A coach and father of two ballplayers since 1997, Hamilton prepared to take the idea to the Colorado Springs Little League last December.

"We started the first meeting of the year with ‘We're going to have a Challenger program,'" he said. "So when I presented that to the board, I got full support."

That support didn't mean he immediately had a hoard of volunteers.

"It was very slow," Hamilton said, adding that even recruiting players was a challenge at first. "Because I don't have any disabled children, I don't know anybody in that community, and I found it a little guarded."

Things began to pick up in March and April, but funding issues quickly became a factor.

"I didn't think it was going to happen," Hamilton said. "Then I got a sponsor (Corey Keysar of Lakeside Auto Brokers) who came forward and said, ‘Put the next 15 kids on me.' He made the season happen."

Keysar got the eight-game season rolling and Lauren Weiner of Colorado Springs Youth Sports donated the use of the El Pomar fields near Circle Drive and Janitell Road.

But it's the volunteers who Hamilton credits for keeping the Challenger wheels turning. Every Challenger program depends on these "buddies" to attend games and help players pitch, bat and get around the bases.

Just as important, however, these "buddies" give busy parents a chance to sit back and enjoy the game while giving themselves something extra as well.

"I feel blessed and fortunate," said David Harris, who, along with Roy Christman, was a recipient of "buddy" awards handed out by Hamilton after the June27 finale. "It's the best hour of my week by far.

"You can have a bad day at work and come out here and hang out with these kids, and they have sheer joy for the game, just to be out there playing. Everything else goes away."

Volunteers likely will have another chance to help out next year as Hamilton plans to expand from two teams to at least four. That shouldn't be a problem as interest continues to grow.

And if you're looking for Hamilton next summer, just find a schedule of that week's Challenger games.

"I'm full bore now. This is my new project," he said.

El Pomar Youth Sports Park

2212 Executive Circle,

Colorado Springs, CO 80906

Phone. 719-630-0168

Email. vmartin@csyouthsports.org