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These days, thanks to the number of coaches and other volunteers, Cook can roam the four Challenger fields on league days, overseeing the action. But his responsibilities were much different in the beginning. “I had growing pains,” recalled Cook, an East Meadow resident for 35 years. “It was hard to do this, because everyone had to play together.”
Cook, 58, became certified by the Special Olympics, took special education courses and received CPR training to prepare for the challenges, which included the integration of children with varying disabilities into a single game. Besides membership and funding issues — the Little League funds the entire program, at no cost to parents — the organizational effort took an emotional toll on Cook, something he said he wasn’t prepared for. “I’m a very sensitive person,” he said. “When I see people with disabilities, their limitations and struggling … it hurts me.”
But years passed, one team grew to five, and next spring, Cook said, the league expects to add a sixth team. “Over the years, I’ve learned to see all of the good in it,” he said. “To look past the hardship and see the joy they get out of it.”
The players on the five teams — the Mets, Cyclones, Dodgers, Ducks and Yankees — are divided by ability, not age, unlike most Little Leagues. The most skilled team, the Mets, often travel to face teams from other towns, including Sachem, Massapequa, New Hyde Park and Plainview.
And while EMLL’s other leagues field only local kids, the Challenger Division has no such limits. It does not turn away anyone who wants to play, and currently has children on its rosters whose homes range from Suffolk County to Queens.
The league schedules games on Sundays in April May, June, September and October, and costs approximately $7,000 per year to run. League officials raise the money through fundraisers and donations from local organizations like East Meadow Kiwanis and the East Meadow Chamber of Commerce.