Play ball!: Zionsville Little League offers inclusive team


Baseball is widely regarded as a sport that allows children to have fun with their peers while developing and learning important skills. The Zionsville Little League understands the importance of inclusivity and accessibility for children interested in playing the game.

The Zionsville Little League offers the Challenger League for children who have special needs. The league has only one team that splits into smaller teams that play against each other. On Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m., games take place at Lions Park in Zionsville. The program is open to children ages 7 to 25.

According to the team’s coach, Andy Small, the team was organized approximately 16 years ago. It serves as a space for children who would otherwise be left behind in sports.

“These kids don’t have opportunities,” Small said. “Some of these kids have tried to play tee ball and it just doesn’t work because of their special needs. This is an opportunity for them, and they have an absolute blast.”

DSC 2518
Back, from left, Coach Andy Small, volunteers Paige Small and Lauren Carter and team pitcher Tom Nolan. Front, from left, volunteers Abby Nolan and Laura Nolan. (Photos by Edward Redd)

Laura Nolan, a pediatric occupational therapist and one of the team’s volunteers, said the team has more than 30 children who live in Carmel, Fishers, Noblesville, and Zionsville. On game day, the team is divided into smaller teams that scrimmage one another.

“Teams are based on how big the children are and where they are developmentally as opposed to age,” Nolan said. “At 9.a.m, we have about 15 of our younger kids. We split it down the middle. About seven and seven. They play (against) each other. Then at 10 a.m., we have our bigger kids. We have a 9-year-old on the big kid group up until probably 24 or 25.”

Nolan said the games are more informal as they are adapted to accommodate children with learning and physical disabilities. During games, volunteers help children whenever they may need it , as with catching, batting and running. Pitching is done in a safe and relaxed manner.

During her 12 years of volunteering for the team, Nolan has watched some of the kids grow up on the team. She said watching them improve their skills and social relationships has been a special experience.

“Especially when you come back and maybe haven’t seen them for basically a year,” Nolan said. “They have grown so much.”

Laura and Micah Reid’s son, Eli Reid, has been on the team for five years. The Zionsville residents have seen the positive impact the team has made on their son and the other players.

Laura Reid has witnessed the team improve through the years as the players have developed a strong grasp of the fundamentals, being able to catch, throw and hit the ball.

Laure Reid said children with physical challenges have progressed as well.

“There’s a couple of kids out here who started off in braces or in wheelchairs who don’t use them anymore,” she said.

Since joining the team, Eli Reid has made friends. Micah Reid said the team has made a positive impact on his son and the other players.

“I have noticed over the years the communication level has increased,” Micah Reid said. “They have friends, and they have that community. It’s definitely good for the kids and their social skills.”

The Challenger League plays every Saturday from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. Anyone looking to volunteer is welcome to come on game days. Nolan said the team always welcomes volunteers. Registration for the spring season is closed but fall registration opens in July.

Anyone interested in more information on the Challenger League can contact Small at [email protected].

More information about the Zionsville Little League can be found at

Little League photo 2
Coach, volunteers and players gather before a Saturday morning game.

History of The Challenger League 

The Challenger League started 16 years ago with only 15 players. Through the years, the league – which consists of a single team — has doubled. It welcomes residents from Zionsville and surrounding communities who want to play or volunteer.

Laura Nolan has been volunteering since she was in high school. She believes it is important for the community to provide programs like the Challenger League to promote opportunities and inclusion.

“It’s really not that inspirational, in a sense,” Nolan said. “It’s just a bunch of kids living their normal lives playing baseball in a way that just looks a little different from other kids.”