VIRGINIA BEACH, VA (WTKR)- Every Sunday, Kempsville PONY's baseball fields are filled with champions.
It's the organization's Champions League, giving kids with disabilities the chance at an organized baseball experience.
"We have kids that are in wheelchairs, we have kids in walkers, we have kids who that have attention issues and things like that," said John Shipp, the president of Kempsville PONY Baseball.
"2021 was our first season," Donna Eason recalled. She's the vice president of the Kempsville PONY Baseball Champions League. "We had five players that first season. We've now grown to 14."
This league gives those with physical and mental handicaps the chance to play America's pastime. They get to grab a bat, put on a helmet and take some hacks, just like they see other players do. The games are held with safety in mind, with the champions hitting off of a tee and using bats and balls that can't hurt anybody, but it's a true baseball experience.
"Getting to hit off the tee, running to first base, fielding the baseball, the littlest things for these kids are amazing," Eason said.
"They get a chance to come out here and put on a uniform just like the other kids," added Shipp. "They get a chance to come out here and have a normal baseball experience."
Coaches and other teams do their parts to make this league work as well. Each champions player has a buddy in the field to give them a hand during the game and traditional teams volunteer to be the opponents for the Sunday contests. It's a rewarding experience for everybody involved.
"Whoever my buddy is, he just picks the ball up and gives it to me and I do the rest," said Bennett Pope, a champions player.
"They get out in the outfield and exaggerate overthrowing the ball so a champion can be safe," Eason pointed out of the buddies and opponents. "They trip going around first base so the champions can come tag them out, so they enjoy it just as much as the champions do."
Sunday will see champions from Kempsville and Great Neck PONY Baseball square off in a Champions League Championship. Great Neck has had a Champions League a little bit longer than Kempsville and helped their fellow Virginia Beach organization get the program off the ground. This will give the community and other players a chance to see a game where both teams are already winners.
"It really makes you feel grateful for what you have," Shipp said. "It's incredible to see the smile on these kids' faces, to watch them run the bases."
"These kids are just like you and they love the game of baseball and experience it slightly different, but still get to experience it," noted Eason.
News 3 is proud to be broadcasting Sunday's Champions League Championship between Great Neck and Kempsville on our digital channels. First pitch is scheduled for 1:00 PM.
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