Challenger baseball program a winning proposition for all

The Challenger baseball program plays at Unity Park on Sundays from April through June.
The Challenger baseball program plays at Unity Park on Sundays from April through June.

Sean Carroll may not have children with special needs, but he recognizes the importance of every youngster — regardless of athletic ability — having an outlet to play sports and interact with his or her peers.

More than a half-decade ago, Carroll had heard about Trumbull’s former baseball program for special needs athletes and that it had been dormant for several years. “I felt like there was a void in town,” Carroll recalls.

So, six years ago, he started the Trumbull Challenger Baseball Program, and got his wife, Maggie, and their children involved with running it.

Carroll got the word out about the (re)formation of a league for baseball enthusiasts with special needs, and it started as a 20-participant, 30-volunteer endeavor. Since then, the numbers of both participants and volunteers have doubled.

“I’m pleased that people have taken a liking to the program and seen the good that it provides for both the volunteers and the players,” Carroll said. “From a volunteer perspective, they see the smiles of these player’s faces each week. They get just as much out of it as the special needs kids.”

“The Challenger program has been such a positive experience for our daughter Jessie,” said Challenger player parent Doug Marchetti. “We are so fortunate to live in a community where so many people are so willing to give up their time to participate.”

The program provides an opportunity for the athletes and volunteers alike to experience camaraderie and having friendships. Some players are in wheelchairs and some hit off a tee.

“These kids will trade places with you in a minute,” Carroll said. “It’s a good life lesson. I think we need to get a better perspective of what sports is all about.”

Beginning in the middle of April, the Challengers play for 8-to-10 weeks through the end of June. The team plays a game at Unity Park every Sunday. After each game the players are treated to ice cream and, at the end of the season, they participate in an awards ceremony.

Players range from five year olds on up through students in high school. They’re paired with a buddy comparable in age to assist them on the playing field.

“What better way than to use the volunteer-buddy system,” Carroll said.

His children, 17-year-old Patrick, 16-year-old Sean and 13-year-old Ryan all help out. Carroll still coaches Ryan’s basketball team, and has previously coached youth baseball.

“The athletes have a great time, and I’d like to think it is a great experience for the partners as well,” said Marchelli, adding that he and his wife Sheila are very appreciative of the efforts of the volunteers, especially Sean and Maggie Carroll. “They put so much time and energy into the program. Jessie looks forward to playing every week.”

Kevin and Meredith Chamberlain’s son Alex is in the program.

“Playing in the Challenger division has meant the world to Alex,” Meredith Chamberlain said. “He and his special needs friends are so fortunate to have this opportunity to enjoy baseball in a way that they otherwise would not be able to. He so looks forward to seeing his friends every Sunday, and the familiar faces of his peers who volunteer to assist, with throwing, catching, hitting, or running the bases.

“He always leaves with a big smile from his day in the sun, especially from the post-game ice cream. We thank The Carroll Family and Trumbull Little League for all their hard work to make the Challenger Program a success.”

Kevin Chamberlain, new to the Trumbull Little League board of directors this year, and Trumbull Little League board director George Hesse are liaisons between Trumbull Little League and the Challenger program. They help make it possible for the team members to play each week.

The program is underwritten by Shelton-based Merit Insurance, for which Carroll serves as president, along with other sponsors, Vazzy’s, D’addario Auto Group, FOCUS, and Destefano and Chamberlain, LLC.

The Challengers always welcome additions to the team.

For more information, call Carroll at 203-459-4445 or contact him via e-mail at