The program was started in the 1980’s by parents and because of the commitment of those parents and parents who came after, the league has grown to become the largest Challenger League in the US with close to 300 children and adults. Syracuse is proud that parents, volunteers and local businesses have continued to support this league and make it the envy of leagues around the country.
The Challenger League in Syracuse is the oldest Little League program for special needs children in the country. In 1982 Syracuse Challenger Baseball was created by a group of parents in Eastwood. They wanted a safe and fun place for children with special needs to play baseball. Under the District 8 Little League umbrella the first set of teams were created. By 2003 that small group of children and parents had grown to 6 teams with 12 players and 72 children. These teams had no home field and traveled to Liverpool, Lyncourt, Mattydale and Eastwood to play their games.
In 2004 Dom Cambareri became League Director. He followed in the footsteps of former Challenger Directors including Skip Soule and Bob Nelson. He knew the special needs community was growing and wanted a way to accept every player without putting any child on a waiting list.
Dom Cambareri is the father of two of the players on the league. He owns the law practice Cambareri & Cambareri and is a long time sponsor of the Green team on the Junior Division.
In 2005 Dee Perkins became Deputy Program Director and self-appointed “League Photographer.” Through the years she has added technology to the league to make calling out to the players easier using a pre-recorded phone message, she built the first Challenger website and continues to update it and added facebook, twitter and youtube accounts as well. During the Field of Dreams grand opening, she used Facebook Live to broadcast to the community the first look at the new fields. She continues to update the way the league communicates with its players with 2017 being the year we move to the texting platform, “remind me.”
In 2007 two new senior teams were created to allow older and more skilled players to play beside their fellow teammates. These teams have thrived and now grown to close to 20 players on each team. In 2016 JJ Petrikus, a Little League Coach and baseball educator, was added as a skills coach to continue to grow the abilities of our players.
In 2011 thanks to the guidance from Jon Law from CNY Agency we were able to bring on four new sponsors that allowed us to expand the Junior Division by four teams. The league had doubled and was on it’s way to tripling in size.
In 2015 Little League approved our request to create adult teams. The league immediately created two adult teams in 2015. In 2016 four new adult teams were added to create a place for special needs adults in our league. Our oldest player in 2015 was 65 years old and our youngest was 4 years old.
As the league has grown, so has the administrative team. In 2011 both Sonya Miller and Jennifer Savastino came on board as Deputy Program Directors and started working on two goals:
- Keep building the league so we never have to turn a player away.
- Manage communication and data so we can always reach out to a player or parent.
- Create home fields where the league can play all their games without traveling.
Jennifer Savastino took ahold of the fundraising for the league and the Field of Dreams. She is the owner of Gannon Pest Control and has sponsored two of the current teams.
In 2017 Sonya Miller retired from her position with the league.
Both Jennifer and Dom worked closely with the Town of Dewitt, generous benefactors, and the community to make the Carrier Park Field of Dreams a reality. The Carrier Park Field of Dreams opened in the spring of 2016 and has two fields used by both Challenger and Little League tournaments. The goal is to have 7 fields to house the entire league. Currently , he league operates out of the Field of Dreams for adults and seniors and in Mattydale for the junior division.
The league has grown to become the largest Challenger League in the US with close to 300 children and adults. Syracuse is proud that parents, volunteers and local businesses have continued to support this league and make it the envy of leagues around the country.
The league is free to special needs families. Our players are blind, in wheelchairs, autistic and have many other disabilities. Challenger Baseball is the place everyone can call home.
Our league photographers are Mike & Cee Cee Andrew. By day Mike works for Konica Minolta and by day, Cee Cee has a few jobs 😊 She is a freelance photographer, volunteer at the SPCA with the small animals and is a consultant for Thirty One.
In 2017 they split their roles with Mike will be handling all the photo forms/$$ and taking all team and individual posed photos.
Cee Cee will be taking candid/action photos during the games.
If you have any photo form/$$ questions please see Mike 😊As the season unfolds, Mike will be letting everyone know which field he can be found on game nights. You can reach Mike and Cee Cee at firstname.lastname@example.org
Some of our slideshows from years past are located here: