Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Oregon Volunteer Recognized with 2013 Little League® Challenger Award

Dan Vaandering
SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. – Dan Vaandering wanted to give his son, Alex, a chance to play baseball. Now, he’s leading the charge for the Little League Challenger Division® in the Pacific Northwest. Little League Baseball and Softball will recognize Mr. Vaandering with this year’s Challenger Award at the 2013 Little League Baseball® World Series.

“Alex came home with a flyer for Challenger baseball, and I hadn’t really heard of it before,” said Mr. Vaandering. “So, we checked it out, went to the orientation and decided to sign Alex up. I ended up volunteering to coach.”

In 2006 and 2007, Mr. Vaandering, a resident of Beaverton, Ore., coached his son, who was developmentally delayed and suffered from seizures. He then accepted the role of Oregon District 4 Assistant Administrator for the Challenger Division.

“We started growing quite a bit, and rotating our games between all the leagues in our district,” said Mr. Vaandering. “We established a ‘Buddy Team’ system that pairs our Challenger teams with a team from a local league. It has been a great way to let parents enjoy the games, and have local leagues get involved in the Challenger Division. Then we saw the Challenger Exhibition Game at the Little League Baseball World Series, and thought that we should have one here in Portland at the Little League Softball™ World Series at Alpenrose.”

In 2008, the first Challenger Exhibition Game at the Little League Softball World Series was held. Needing a Buddy Team, Mr. Vaandering turned to the team from Waco, Texas, who was just knocked out of the tournament, and asked them to help out in the Challenger game. The team from the Southwest went from being disheartened about the loss, to smiling inside the white lines, as they helped in that first game. It started a tradition of Little League Softball World Series teams fighting for a chance to be the Buddy Team at the exhibition game.

The following year, he decided to bring a Challenger Jamboree to Portland, which is now in its fifth year, giving Little Leaguers® with developmental and physical challenges in the Pacific Northwest an event to look forward to every year.

The Vaanderings suffered a tragic loss in 2010 when their son Alex unexpectedly passed away in his sleep.

“The loss we experienced continues to be one of the hardest things we have to deal with,” said Mr. Vaandering. “But the thought of not giving those 50 or 60 kids that were Alex’s teammates a chance to continue to play Little League®, that broke our heart even more.”

Mr. Vaandering will be recognized at a ceremony during the 67th Little League Baseball World Series, which begins on Thursday, Aug. 15 in South Williamsport, Pa., with the Championship Game scheduled for 3 p.m., Sunday, Aug. 25. The Little League Awards Breakfast will be held on Thursday, Aug. 22. For more information on the Series and to follow the action live, visit llbws.org

“Mr. Vaandering’s dedication to the Little League Challenger Division is an inspiration,” said Stephen D. Keener, Little League President and CEO. “We are honored that we can recognize the efforts of him and his family at this year’s Little League Baseball World Series.”