OSCEOLA — When Mary Lou Davis began coaching her children in Little League, she anticipated being involved until her children aged out. Now, more than 30 years later, she has not only remained involved as an active volunteer, but has led the charge to grow the Little League Challenger Division in Indiana.
Throughout her Little League volunteer career, Davis served not only as a coach for her children, but also as president of Osceola Little League. She had always loved volunteering and the impact she had on her community. However, when her children were about to age out, she got a call that presented a new opportunity.
“Our district administrator called me and told me that they were planning to start a Challenger Division team,” Davis said. “I immediately told her I wanted to be involved in it.”
The Little League Challenger Division, an adaptive baseball program for individuals with physical and intellectual challenges, was started in 1989, the same year Davis got the call and decided to start volunteering. As a former teacher, Davis knew she had the resources to reach out to local children who might have been interested.
“I taught physical education, so I knew I had connections to the special needs program at my school,” Davis said. “I started going to several of the staff that worked with them to spread the word about the program.”
Davis has since made improvements to Indiana District 14’s Challenger Division. She has grown the program from two teams to eight teams, has recruited countless volunteers, and organized and executed the Little League Central Region Challenger Jamboree. In 2011, the league traveled to Williamsport to play in the Little League Challenger Division Exhibition Game, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for everyone involved.
“When we brought our team to Williamsport, it was such an amazing experience,” she said. “We played a team from Lafayette, Louisiana, and seeing the cultural differences was incredible, but that was the only difference. Both teams were all on the field and just wanted the same thing: to play baseball.”
Davis said she is grateful for her time with the Challenger Division. She has a passion for helping these children and said the most rewarding part is seeing how excited they are to play baseball.
“These kids are just amazing,” Davis said. “Just to watch their reaction when they hit a ball, even if they run in the wrong direction, is so rewarding.”
Based on her passion for helping others, her dedication to her league, and her determination to make a difference, Davis will be named the 2019 Little League Challenger Division Volunteer of the Year.
“I’m hoping that this award will inspire others to start their own Challenger Division and bring more volunteers,” Davis said. “The advice I would give someone who might be interested is to not be afraid to start talking to anyone about it and encourage children, parents, and volunteers to join.”