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Challenger Baseball player heading to the White House; Reid Elementary student to visit this week

By Laura Hayes

laurahayes@pressandjournal.com

717-944-4628
Posted 5/30/18

When a White House staff member contacted Anthony Fowler a week ago about bringing members of the Camp Hill Challenger Baseball team to the White House for a field day, he didn’t believe it. …

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Challenger Baseball player heading to the White House; Reid Elementary student to visit this week

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When a White House staff member contacted Anthony Fowler a week ago about bringing members of the Camp Hill Challenger Baseball team to the White House for a field day, he didn’t believe it.

“Initially I laughed and thought it was a complete prank,” Fowler said.

But after he looked up who the person was and saw that they actually worked at the White House, Fowler realized the offer was legitimate.

The Camp Hill Challenger Baseball league is a baseball league for children and young adults between the ages of five and 21 with mental or physical disabilities, and on May 30, 15 members of the league will travel to Washington D.C. for a field day hosted by the President’s Council on Sports, Fitness and Nutrition.

“It’s really incredible for a special needs team to get chosen to go to the White House for any event,” Fowler said. “It’s going to be exciting and really cool for the kids.”

One of those players is 10-year-old Ethan Whitaker, who will be one of the children going to the White House.

Ethan, who goes to school at Reid Elementary School, has been on the baseball team for three years. His grandmother Lynn Briner was at work when Fowler texted her to call him ASAP. At first, she was worried that something happened to one of the other players on Ethan’s team, the Bobcats.

When she called him, Fowler said they had been invited to the White House and Ethan would be one of the selected players to attend.

“I’m like, ‘Really?’ He goes, ‘No, this is not a hoax. We’ve been invited to the White House,’” Briner said.

Fowler said they’re still waiting to get the details of what exactly is going to happen at the White House on May 30 or if President Donald Trump will be present.

“We’re very excited. I think it’s an awesome opportunity for the kids. I mean, who gets the chance to go to the White House?” Briner said.

Ethan said he’s excited to go to the White House.

Ethan loves baseball and attends all of his brother’s games, Briner said. Ethan said he liked the other kids, batting and catching the ball in the outfield, and Briner said she liked the interaction between the players and that everyone plays.

The team, she said, isn’t about scoring runs or winning. According to Fowler, they don’t keep score during the games or record runs. Each player gets to hit the ball from either the tee or pitch, and they have a chance to field the balls too.

“They love it,” Briner said. “The kids get so excited. They hit a ball, and then the coaches throw a bunch of balls in the outfield so that everyone gets a chance to field.”

The players can also have a buddy — usually a teen from the community. Ethan’s buddy is his older brother, Dustin.

“The buddy is put out there to protect them from a ball that is hit,” Briner said.

Each of the players, Fowler said, experiences a level of success on the diamond and can go home feeling good about how they played.

Fowler, who is the league director, became involved in the league after his younger son started playing. He started coaching in his first year after some of the other coaches retired.

Since the program was founded in 1998, the Camp Hill Challenger Baseball league has grown and has around 100 players from Cumberland, Dauphin, Perry and York counties that make up eight teams.

He called the team a heartwarming and positive experience.

“All 97 kids are winners,” he said.

Fowler has seen numerous benefits from the league. He said the players can socialize with similar peers while also being active and parents gain a support network.

“The parents don’t feel alone on an island,” Fowler said.

Briner has seen Ethan grow too. Ethan, who doesn’t walk from a form of cerebral palsy and neurological issues, can play baseball like his brother.

“It lights him up,” Briner said.

Ethan, she said, is very social and loves to cheer and tell the other players “good job” while also seeing other players who use walkers like him.