Cartersville Challenger League a thrill for those who can’t play elsewhere
by Andrew B. Adler
Apr 14, 2013 | 1111 views | 0 0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Jonathan Durham kept swinging at every pitch until he connected with one that traveled no more than 20 feet from home plate.

But to the 30-year-old slugger that base hit might as well have been a 450-foot smash over the centerfield fence at Sugar Valley Baseball Complex.

He celebrated his base hit by lifting both arms high into the air as if he was signaling a touchdown while running toward first.

At the urging of all the Cartersville Challenger League parents, coaches and buddies, Durham kept on running to second base, then third base and then finally home.

Upon scoring a run late Saturday morning, Durham again raised both arms high above his head and began acknowledging his happiness all the way to the dugout.

“That’s my Jonathan,” said Teresa Billingsly, his mother. “He is very exciteable at any sport he plays.”

That same excitement could be seen in every Challenger who either wore an orange or purple baseball jersey ... whether they were 3 years old or 30 years old. Whether they batted while confined to a wheelchair or needed a helping hand while rounding the bases.

“These kids could not play organized sports if it wasn’t for this league,” said Ida Mitchell, who gets much joy in watching the camaraderie that 23-year-old Angel Mitchell shares with her peers.

Her peers numbered some where between 60 and 70 on a day that saw wheelchair bound Brayden Eubanks, age 9, grab a baseball bat and don his blue striped batting helmet, and volunteers Ben O’Meara and Anna Pasley kept Mikaela Phillpott, 19, company at first base.

Batters like Brayden and Mikaela had the option of hitting off a tee or being pitched to.

“You can see Brayden’s confidence grow every time he steps to the plate,” said Brayden’s parents, Demi and David Eubanks. “He’s a big Braves and Falcons fan who makes sure we know when the next game is scheduled. “

The Cartersville Challenger League has been scheduling games — that today include baseball, football, basketball and cheerleading — since its inception 15 years ago.

“Ever since we inherited the goals and responsibilities of the [Carterville Challenger] league from its founding dads, we have strived to make everyone feel like one big happy family,” coach Paul Walker said.

Just like in any little league or baseball league, high-fives were exchanged after the final out was made. Pizza was a most sought after post game meal.

“It’s Cici’s Pizza after every game,” said Scott Pullen, whose wife, Amy, sent a text message informing him that the pizzas were on the way.

Of their four children united by a marriage of two different families, Brayden Phillpott and Hanna Pullen volunteer while Mikaela Phillpott and Owen Pullen, 6, swing a mean baseball bat.

“We became involved [in the Cartersville Challenger League] after my wife learned about it through word of mouth,” Scott Pullen said.

It is through word-of-mouth and emails that Walker, coach Pete Nunn and Joe Robinson would like to communicate the need for more volunteers.

“We are in desperate need for more buddies to assist our kids during T-ball baseball season that runs through May,” Nunn said. “Members of civic organizations, fraternities and sororities at local colleges, parents with older children who play high school sports are most welcomed to join us every Saturday at 10:30 a.m. Our kids love the companionship shown by all our buddies.”

Nunn, who has coached recreational football for 17 years, became involved with the league four years ago.

“Being a volunteer is a great way to give back to the community,” he said.

Nunn went from volunteer to batting coach when Durham stepped up to the plate once again.

And, just like his first time at bat, he kept swinging and missing pitch after pitch.

That is until Nunn showed him how to properly grip the baseball bat, and patiently waited for his pitch.

Nunn’s coaching worked to perfection.

Again, the soft-coated baseball traveled no more than 20 feet in front of home plate. Once again, Durham rounded all of the bases. The only difference this time was that Durham was joined by Mikaela Phillpott as they both headed home. One went there by foot while the other by wheelchair.

Without any assistance, both arrived safely at home. Both were sporting major smiles that literally stretched across Sugar Valley Baseball Complex.