Toms River East Little League’s Opening Day is this Saturday, April 1, and this year the league will pay a special tribute to its Challenger Division, a division where special needs children can participate.
The Parade starting at 10 a.m. at the East Dover First Aid Squad located at Garfield and Third Avenue.
This year’s theme is celebrating “25 Years of TRELL’S Challenger Division.” TRELL is the only little league out of all other leagues that comprise District 18 that allows for the township’s handicapped and other physically or developmentally challenged players to be able to learn about, as well as play baseball with a “buddy system.”
The games are under the Direction of longtime Director Jim Kelly.
“Mr. Kelly’s dedication and stewardship of this division enables approximately 75 boys and girls each season to have an active part in playing and learning about sportsmanship and baseball. Without Mr. Kelly and his tireless efforts and dedication this would not be possible,” an announcement of the event from the league said. “We are grateful to Mr. Kelly and his steadfast dedication to the ‘Challenger cause’ of the Toms River East Little League!”
In the winter of 1993, Toms River residents Nick Lilly and Kelly were brought together after both had expressed interest to Jackson Holbrook Little League representatives about developing a Challenger baseball program. Jackson had just completed their first season of Challenger and Jim had been out to Jackson to observe the games. Nick was on the board of directors at Toms River East Little League (TRELL) and Jim was the parent of a disabled son and along with TRELL coach, John Wnek, they decided to bring Challenger baseball to TRELL.
Completely supported by local sponsors, TRELL Challenger has had the same sponsors for most of the division’s existence. Locally, the division is supported by the Toms River Elks, Jersey Iron Motorcycle Club, Toms River Post Office Employees, Berkeley Pallets and New Jersey Natural Gas Company. The division has never charged a player a registration fee and all donations directly support the players uniforms and activities. The program has averaged around 65 players on 4 junior teams and 2 senior teams. Senior teams developed based upon the interest of several players who wanted to continue their involvement with Challenger as they grew older. A few players have been playing since the inception of TRELL Challenger
TRELL Challenger is also completely supported by volunteers, who, from buddies to team moms, to the coaches and buddy leaders, make the games possible.