McConnaughay Shines Light on Special Needs Little League Coordinator Mark Johnson
State Senator Karen McConnaughay (R-St. Charles) spotlights Mark Johnson, a West Dundee resident and Northern Kane County Chamber 2015 Community Service Award recipient, who has touched the lives of hundreds of children with special needs by bringing the joys of the game of baseball to them.
Mark Johnson’s life changed when he saw a flyer for Challenger baseball, Little League for children with special needs. On his first opening day, 65 kids with their assigned buddies plus parents and a variety of community members resulted in what one parents called a “Field of Dreams.”
“At first, we looked for kids through various state agencies—not realizing that they were in our schools, pews and bleachers. They were right in front of us and we didn’t know that,” said Johnson. “We were able to provide these kids with uniforms, snacks and trophies and an experience that many of them and their parents never thought was possible.”
Over the past seven years, Mark has helped the program expand throughout the Chicagoland area. In 2013 Mark was selected to manage a Challenger team at the Little League World Series in Pennsylvania.
Mark also launched a baseball tournament called Challenger Jamboree. Free food, crafts, trophies, t-shirts, hayrides, games, a golf course and a petting zoo round out this park-district-supported event at Randall Oaks. Mark measures its success by number of hot dogs eaten. This past year? 700.
“This is more than just about giving these kids an opportunity to play this game, but also teaches our Little League athletes so much about giving back,” said Johnson.
Johnson’s accolades include the Presidential Volunteer Award and being named one of “Chicago’s Very Own” by WGN-TV. In addition, Mark works with St. Catherine of Siena and Marian Central.
What is Challenger?
Challenger allows children with mental or physical disabilities to enjoy the full benefits of Little League baseball in an environment structured to their abilities. Playing with the same equipment on same fields, Challenger players have the opportunity to experience the joys of pulling together as team, being cheered, making new friends and earning awards for their achievement. It operates under a buddy system, generally pairing a little leaguer with a challenger participant. It is truly a win/win for all that are involved.
How do I start a Challenger Program?
If you want to start a Challenger Program or have questions, you can contact Mark Johnson by e-mail at email@example.com or visit www.challengerillinois.com.
| In Spring 2014, Mark and his Challenger baseball team were invited to Springfield and were honored on the House floor.
| Pictures above were taken at this year's Challenger Jamboree event.