ELLSWORTH — For two days, Carolyn Miller’s sons were baseball’s biggest stars.
As Miller, an Ellsworth mother of two boys with rare medical conditions, awoke Sunday morning, she did so to the joyful yelling of Timothy, 6, and Oliver, 5. This was game day morning, and there was no containing her boys’ excitement.
“They woke up yelling, ‘Baseball! Mom, get my shirt, it’s baseball day again!’” Miller said Sunday. “They couldn’t wait to get out here and play. I can’t even describe how ecstatic they were.”
A few years ago, Miller never could have imagined Timothy, who suffers from a congenital joint condition called arthrogryposis, or Oliver, who has spinal muscular dystrophy, playing baseball. Thanks to this weekend’s Maine State Challenger Little League Jamboree, though, both her boys and dozens of other joyful children throughout the state got that opportunity.
The Maine State Challenger Jamboree came to Hancock County over the weekend with games played Saturday and Sunday at Demeyer Field and a recreation night Saturday evening at Camp CaPella on Dedham’s Phillips Lake. The event brought together players, parents, buddies and other volunteers from around the state and ensured every child got a chance to take part in America’s pastime.
Challenger Little League is an adapted Little League program that serves youth players with physical and intellectual disabilities. The format pairs those players with school-age partners known as “buddies” and other adult volunteers to create an environment where everybody bats, everybody scores and everybody wins.
“Everybody deserves to play baseball, and our league and this weekend is really about that when it comes down to it,” said Todd Wagstaff, one of Ellsworth Challenger Little League’s co-founders. “This is something that’s for everybody, and it’s important for these kids and their parents and family members to make those opportunities happen.”
No league in the state has been more pioneering in its Challenger Little League exploits than the Ellsworth chapter, which began its inaugural season in 2015 with a jamboree that brought face-painting, pizza, a fire truck-led parade of players and weekend full of baseball to Demeyer Field. The event was hailed as a roaring success, and two years, Wagstaff wanted to take it statewide.
“We wanted the other leagues around Maine to be able to be a part of this,” Wagstaff said. “It’s big for the parents to be able to collaborate, connect and network with each other, and that’s kind of what gave us the idea to get started with it. After how popular the first one was, we did it again down in Boothbay last year.”
This year, the event returned to Hancock County with games beginning at 9 a.m. Saturday in Ellsworth. At noon, players from Ellsworth and three other Challenger Little Leagues (Lincoln County, Medomak Valley and South Portland-Biddeford) received medals as they were recognized in the outfield.
In the evening, the party moved 12 miles north to Camp CaPella for a night of barbecue, boating, swimming, swinging and more. Events wrapped up late Sunday morning as parties from the visiting leagues had to begin their long trips home, but many of the 42 players clad in Ellsworth’s maroon T-shirts stayed around with parents, buddies and adult volunteers to soak it in even more.
“This is my favorite two days of the entire year,” said Conner Wagstaff, who has been an Ellsworth buddy since 2015. “The faces you see on everybody here is something that’s so incredible. We’re so fortunate that people keep talking about it every year and saying good things about what Challenger is doing.”
Of the many delightful moments that took place, the biggest of all came on the Demeyer softball dirt. No scores or stats were kept, but the hits and runs all felt as if they were worth 1,000.
The festivities didn’t last forever, and by early afternoon, even the heartiest baseball enthusiasts had left. Yet in little more than 24 hours, the event had connected everyone from Challenger’s early days in Maine to first-year volunteer parents such as Carolyn Miller in ways that will last a lifetime.
“I played softball as a kid, and I’ve always wanted my kids to have that same chance to have the same fun that I did,” Miller said. “I’ve been crying with the coaches all weekend because this has given us all these things we never, ever would’ve expected.”