Building Skills and Community

Nickole Kerner Bobley

Oct 29, 2018

Challenger is Orwall Baseball’s adaptive baseball program for individuals with physical and intellectual challenges.

Click, click, click. From the Orwall Baseball Little League bleachers another camera of a parent snaps another photo of their child. For parents of a child with physical and/or intellectual challenges the idea of being able to simply watch (let alone take a photo of) their child enjoy a team sport like baseball often seems like something they can only dream of. 

Meet Coach Doug Brogan, League Director and Minor Division Coach of Orwall Baseball’s Challenger Division, whom for the past 18 years has made baseball dreams for children with disabilities (and their parents) a heartspun reality. Challenger is Orwall Baseball’s adaptive baseball program for individuals with physical and intellectual challenges.

Lifelong avid baseball fans, Brogan and his wife, Madeline, have three children. Their youngest, Matthew, who was born with a form of Muscular Dystrophy, began T-ball at the age of 5 with his father as the coach. It was clear to Brogan, however, Matthew, and children like him who wanted to play, needed special accomodations to learn the sport and play the game.

A New Englander, Brogan was transferred to Texas as a Service Manager with Thermo Fisher Scientific in the early 1990s. In 1999 Doug teamed with Orwall to start the Challenger league and has been coaching Matthew and his Challenger teammates ever since. 

“This program gives a chance for every kid to play organized baseball and for the parents to network while enjoying watching their kids play,” smiles Brogan. “I have always felt blessed to be able to help with Challenger.”

Brogan is joined by an incredible team coaches including Darin Workman, Jack Grogan (with children Mark and Thomas enrolled in the league) and Charlie Dalton who play across 3 Orwall baseball fields each Saturday morning. The Challenger Junior Division accommodates players ages 4 to 18; or up to age 22 if still enrolled in school. The Challenger Senior Division accommodates players ages 15 and above (no maximum age). 

“I’m very grateful to the Orwall Baseball Little League, Coach Eastman at The Woodlands High School for helping me and for Dugout Sports for our division’s uniforms,” says Brogan. “None of this would be possible without their help and sponsorship.”

Both Challenger Divisions pair their players with volunteer local high school baseball players. These are the Challenger player’s “buddies” who literally play the game with the players—

side-by-side assisting throughout the game (from helping to catch a ball to walking or carrying a child from base to base). 

“Challenger players are some of the kindest, wittiest and loving people I have every met,” says 17 year-old Highlanders Baseball Player Dylan McDowell who has volunteered as a “Challenger Buddy” for the past 5 years.

Evan Perez, who is 18 years old and plays for the Highlanders Baseball team and who has volunteered as a “Challenger Buddy” for the past 4 year agrees and adds,”It has taught me what it means to give back and make a difference.”

Brogan explains that everyone involved is rewarded who volunteers or plays in the Challenger Division. He explains organizations like this help the parents of the disabled child just as much as they help the child aquire baseball and teamwork skills. Having a child with an intellectual or physical disability is extremely taxing on parents. Many marriages dissolve, and, as a result, Brogan sees a lot of single parents tackling the challenges and demands that parenting a special needs child requires, going it alone. During Challenger games, parents get to take a break, experience joy as they cheer for their child, watch their child function in a team setting and build friendships with other parents who understand one another. An adult community is quickly formed and provides a network of help/support throughout the baseball season and beyond. 

Brogan’s leadership to the parents of children with disabilities extends beyond the baseball field with his annual hosting of the Challenger Halloween Party at his home. At this party, a band called “The Skittles,” comprised of special needs children, play musical instruments and sing popular songs. 

This month Brogan will drive Matthew to his new job at Kroger Grocery Store, where he will work 2 4-hour shifts a week. No doubt the skills he acquired playing baseball in the Challenger League have helped him reach this impressive milestone.  

The Woodlander salutes Coach Brogan, Matthew and the Challenger League. Visit http://www.orwallchallenger.org  to learn more.