ASA SCHAEFFER loved playing baseball as a kid. But he also knows what it’s like to be bullied or excluded from games. He saw that this was happening to many kids with special needs. Even in 2nd grade, those who were differently abled were being left out of sports games at recess. Asa decided he was going to give them the chance they deserved.
So, he created the Santa Cruz Challenger Baseball League, where players who have physical or developmental disabilities are matched with Little League players as their “buddies.” In the past six years, Asa has coordinated approximately 65 players, 250 “buddies,” and 100 coaches and volunteers. Not to mention raising more than $5,900.
Asa is a 2017 Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Awards recipient for his leadership and dedication to SANTA CRUZ CHALLENGER BASEBALL LEAGUE.
We got to ask Asa some questions off the field – he is currently in his first year at The University of British Columbia.
Speaking with Asa Schaeffer:
Who’s your favorite baseball player and why?
Probably Manny Ramirez. He once threw me a signed baseball from the window of his car during LA traffic. Also, one time during a game he thought the inning ended so he tossed the ball into the stands, but it turns out it was actually only the second out so he had to get the person in the crowd to throw it back to him.
Who has had the most positive influence on you in your life?
My father. He is the kind of person who works very hard to find the best solution to problems, and will never give up.
How did you come up with the idea for the Santa Cruz Challenger Baseball League?
I didn’t come up with the idea completely by myself. It is a part of a national organization. But I was inspired to start the league when a friend of mine with special needs was not able to try out for the same baseball team as me.
How did you learn how to balance your schoolwork with running the league?
If anyone is worried about projects getting in the way of school, don’t. Check out the 4-hour workweek model — learn to ignore the unimportant. Talk to your teachers about resources available to help students learn more efficiently and make time for other activities. Anyone can find the time to do a project to improve their community.
Who were some of your most avid supporters and helpers?
Exceptional Little League players, my parents, and the parents of the Challenger kids.
How do you recruit your buddies and coaches?
I went to their board meetings and really worked to convince them to participate. Once they did it once or twice they realized the value and the importance and now everyone is a happy participant.
What were some of your favorite reactions after a practice or game?
We do a group cheer that everyone reacts to in a positive way. My favorite moment in the game is when the Challenger kids get so excited to run the bases that they forget to hit the ball. When they run all the way around and return to home plate, they always get so happy when they learn they get to do it all over again.
What’s the most rewarding part of running the league?
When Challenger players improve through the program. This doesn’t even have to be baseball skills. One girl, Kayla, at first wore big earphones and didn’t want to talk to anyone or hit the ball. Now, 5 years later, she wears a baseball hat and practices baseball on the weekends.
The hardest part?
Regulating the kids with anger issues. Sometimes that can be so heartbreaking.
Who’s taking over for you when you go to college?
Another Little League family will take over, but my parents will help as well. I will be back from college in early April, so I won’t miss too much of the actual season itself. I can contact the league to organize field times from college also through email.
What are your hopes for the league after you leave?
I hope to work with the National Challenger Division to implement some ideas I have to improve the program on a national scale.
Anything else you’d like to say about getting one of the Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Awards?
I have nothing but gratitude and admiration for the Diller family and the Helen Diller Family Foundation, and while I am so happy to have been given this incredible stepping stone for my future, I am even more overjoyed to be given the opportunity to spread the idea of tikkun olam through all of this media exposure, and to hopefully inspire other teens to improve their ideas and send their programs to the next level.
This post is sponsored by the Helen Diller Family Foundation. To learn more about the foundation’s $36,000 Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Awards, visit www.dillerteenawards.org.