Creator of Challenger League honored with Jefferson Award
FOX 31 continues to honor our local heroes with the Jefferson Awards.
The Jefferson Award is the nation's longest standing and most prestigious organization dedicated to celebrating public service.
Jennifer Sapp is September's winner. She is a mother who created Challenger League, a nonprofit organization that provides an opportunity for children with disabilities to play sports.
“I have a special needs child myself, he’s a high functioning special needs child and I wanted him to be able to participate in sports. I could have put him in with regular Ed typical kids and I was scared that he would be made fun of or the competition level would be brought down,” said Jennifer Sapp, Founder of Challenger League in Lee County.
Sapp said they had tried playing sports with different organizations but it didn’t feel complete.
“It was like glorified P.E. He knew in his simple mind he didn’t have a team, he didn’t have a uniform, he didn’t have practices. He didn’t have games. He knew this was not my team ma and it just broke my heart for him not to be able to participate like his older brothers do,” Sapp said.
And that led to the birth of Challenger League.
The league, which started 18 months ago with 20 families, now has about 200 families, 11 programs and about 150 buddies to help the kids.
“It’s very overwhelming and humbling. I don’t feel like I’ve done anything. This is all the work of my board, all the coaches, all of the businesses that have come behind us and helped us and support us,” Sapp said.
Filling this need in the community is for the special needs children first.
“When you see a child run up to home plate and all of a sudden he realizes I have seen this on TV and he stops and lays down on home plate and then he’s yay, it so precious,” Sapp said. “if anybody needs a smile or needs a reason to feel good about our community, come to a challenger game,” she added.
And it also fills the need for parents.
“It’s respite for the family. Sometimes this hour or two that they come out to a game is the only time they get to sit back and have a typical experience,” Sapp said. “Just bringing people together that have the same issues. we use the term PLU, People Like Us,” she added.
Challenger League helps children with all disabilities and the true joy for Sapp is knowing the kids are having the time of their lives.
“I had a 19-year-old the other day out here on the field starting kickball Saturday and he said Miss Jennifer, I just want to let you know that I feel like Challenger League is my second family. I finally feel like I belong. He is 19. It took him 19 years to feel like he belonged somewhere besides his immediate family; that’s what keeps me going,” Sapp said.
For more information on the Challenger League, visit their website at challengerleague.org.