The Greater Ashland Beacon
“All children need is a little help, a little hope, and someone who believes in them,” Magic Johnson couldn’t have said it any better! Every child deserves to have someone that believes not only in what they can do currently but rather what they can accomplish when someone believes in their capabilities.
Amy McGuire, the Director of Special Education for the Russell Independent Schools, shares in Johnson's belief and took it upon herself to turn dreams into actions in 2016, McGuire had a dream of offering a baseball program that would allow ALL children regardless of their age or medical condition to have the opportunity to experience what it is like to be on a team and to be treated just like everyone else.
Through her passion for working with children with special needs, McGuire organized a partnership with the Russell-Flatwoods Little League to start up a baseball team in 2016, that would allow children with any physical and/or intellectual challenges from kindergarten to grade 12, (ages 4-22 years) to experience the beloved game of baseball. This league earned the name Challenger League. Taylor Stumbo, who works very closely with the Challenger League told the Beacon, “The inspiration for this league is derived from the children themselves; to allow them the same joys other children find in team sports. This a place where the children as well as the parents are just happy to have their child healthy and experience the joys of having a crowd cheer them on. It is set up in a way to hopefully be peer-driven so the entire community reaps the benefits.”
In 2017, McGuire partnered with the high school basketball teams at Russell to do the same, so that the children could have the opportunity to experience what it is like to be on the court and so that they had something to do in the winter months as well. It wasn’t until 2019 that McGuire was able to partner with Page Maze and the AYBL to create the first combined league. It was during this time that the games were played during the halftime varsity games so that the entire community could cheer these amazing children on. It was truly a sight to behold. There is nothing greater than that of a child grinning from ear to ear doing something that they love. Unfortunately, once COVID hit in 2020 the Challenger League had to put all games on hold due to the delicate nature of their children and how vulnerable they could be to getting sick.
“It is my mission now to hopefully bring this program back and get the word out that we are here and looking forward to working with these children. Programs such as this not only provide an opportunity to make lifetime memories for these children and their families but also o the volunteers and fans as well. Plus, with this being peer drove with their classmates it allows for more inclusivity to form relationships outside of a school setting,” noted Stumbo. He hopes that everyone will come to realize just how valuable a league such as this can be, to not only our children but to our community as well. “It makes all the difference in the world. I have seen firsthand what programs such as this can do for a kid just look at my son, Gavin, who has Down syndrome. He started in this program when we moved into the district back in 2018. There is no doubt it helped ease the transition of switching schools. The relationships made from the program allowed him to be where he is now, which is the team manager for the Russell Red Devils Boys Basketball team,” added Stumbo.
Thankfully now that COVID seems to have settled down the Challenger League plans to be up and running again very soon. Signups are currently going on right now thru Friday, Nov. 11. The league plans on having one game per week that will be played Saturday mornings. For any information on how you can sign your child up, you can contact Taylor Stumbo at 606.232.7132 or email him at