July 13, 2024 Donate

Community, County, Dexter, Dexter Sports, Education, Michigan, Washtenaw County

Play Ball! Dexter Little League’s Challengers Division is creating fun opportunities

It’s spring and there’s nothing like a good Little League baseball game. It can be very special for many, from the players to their parents. Being outdoors, hearing the crack of the bat and seeing the smiles as they run to first base, a lot of memories are made, especially in the Dexter Little League Challengers Division.

That’s why this unique division of the Dexter Little League was created.

Seeing a need and knowing the importance it would bring, the Dexter Little League Challengers Division was established and supported over the years with the help of people like Mark and Anne Schmidt, Howard Bunsis, and many of the parents and friends of the players.

The Challengers Division is intended for both male and female participants who have physical or cognitive disabilities. What makes the Dexter Little League version so unique and great is that it has grown so much over the years that it now has both Junior and Senior divisions, with players ranging from 5 to over 30 years old.

To learn more about this special part of the DLL, the Sun Times News (STN) connected with the Schmidts, who have been part of the DLL Challengers from the start.

“You would typically think of Little League as being for boys and girls 12 and under, but the Dexter Little League has been very supportive in allowing us to continue the program in our Seniors Division for our players as they transition to adulthood,” the Schmidts said. “We are now in our 19th year and have had players with us the entire time.”

Chase Vorase Busker, Amanda Lyndon, and Ally Stewart having fun at the baseball diamond. photo courtesy of DLL Challengers Division

The coaches are Mark Schmidt and Howard Bunsis, but Anne Schmidt said many of the parents and friends help out and play such important parts.

In telling their story, Anne said Mark was first a coach in the Little League in Dexter in 2003 with their son.

“We learned about the Challenger Division in 2005 and saw a need in Dexter for this type of program,” the Schmidts said. “So with the help of some of the other parents of children with disabilities, we launched Challengers. Our daughter and couple of other of our players have been playing since our first season in 2005.”

They said this is “really about creating more opportunities for people with disabilities to have an activity that is both inclusive and adaptive to their needs.”

Another good time for Hendrick Manning and Nate Bennink. photo courtesy of the DLL Challengers Division

“We encourage players of all abilities to participate regardless of their physical and cognitive ability,” the Schmidts said. “We emphasize safety, independence, and having as much fun as we possibly can. We also encourage volunteers from the Middle and High School, churches, universities, and the DLL to come out and help us.”

Since its creation, STN asked them what has stood out about the division, what are some of the highlights.

“Probably one of the things we’re most proud of is seeing our players grow and mature through the years,” they said. “While we’ve also seen them face the significant challenges that come with being disabled, including passing away, it is truly inspiring to see the positive attitude and joy our players experience during our games. It truly makes you understand how fortunate you are, when you see what many of these players and families have to deal with on a daily basis.”

The Challengers recently lost one of their favorites. One of the original players and son of a coach, Sam Bunsis, died suddenly a few months ago. At the DLL’s opening day ceremony, he was remembered as being a big reason why the Challengers division is so important.

STN asked the Schmidts if there is anything in particular they think the community should know about.

They said they would like to thank the community for supporting the program.

“We are very fortunate that the school district was able to build an all weather, adaptive, field that we use for our program. It’s been a game changer in terms of accommodating our players in wheelchairs and walkers. We are very grateful to have this available,” the Schmidts said. “We’d also like to welcome anyone who wants to volunteer or just come out and watch. We guarantee it will make you feel good and you’ll leave with a smile on your face.”

Cedric and Ashton enjoy their baseball. photo courtesy of the DLL Challengers Division