Kids with special needs play ball in Lower Merion Challenger Programs

Matteo Iadonisi Image
Sunday, February 27, 2022
Kids with special needs play ball in Lower Merion Challenger Programs
Basketball is just one of many sports changing the lives of local kids with special needs.

ARDMORE, Pennsylvania (WPVI) -- "These kids, they stay active. They're some of the best kids you'll ever meet," said Wally Orlov. "And this allows them to sort of compete and have fun, make friendships and memories."

Orlov is the President of the Lower Merion Little League. In 1989, Little League installed a nationwide Challenger Division to include those with physical and intellectual disabilities. This eventually made its way to Lower Merion Township.

"We've been running that program for 15 or 20 years," said Orlov. "And when the parents reached out to me and said, 'Can you do basketball?,' I couldn't say no."

Thus, the Challenger Basketball program was launched. Penn Valley Junior Sports Association rolls out registrations in December, around the same time as its standard recreational leagues. It partners roughly 50 kids who have special needs with buddies to help them have fun and be competitive on the court.

"In the special needs community, they don't necessarily get that quite as often as other kids in our community," he said. "And this sort of evens the playing field a little bit."

One of the players is 17-year-old Izzy Hyson.

"Coach Wally keeps saying I'm really good at shooting and dribbling," she said. "I've played it for a long time and it's a really good sport."

Izzy's mom, Chris, says her daughter has learned a lot throughout the years of swimming, tennis, baseball and basketball.

"It's a great way for all the players to learn a new skill of course, but to make friends, to develop confidence," said Chris. "Izzy has just grown tremendously because of programs like this. We're so grateful for them."

The winter basketball program will come to its conclusion next week. But luckily for students like Izzy, the fun doesn't have to stop there.

Similar programs in the Lower Merion area include Challenger Soccer and Challenger Baseball. Also, local high schools participate in the Best Buddies program to provide even more engagement and socialization in the special needs community.

Lower Merion Little League Challenger Baseball is expected to start this spring and once again in the fall. Then, come winter, basketball lovers can find themselves back on the court.

"I'll do this hopefully every year as long as I'm alive," said Wally Orlov. "Year in and year out, we love these kids."

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