TOMS RIVER – Hot sun. Clear skies. Friends all around. It was a perfect day for baseball.
Jim Kelly founded the Toms River East Little League “TRELL” Challenger division roughly three decades ago. One recent Sunday morning, Kelly bustled around one of the TRELL complex fields, located on Windsor Avenue, where games were beginning. Kelly’s son, a longtime player for the TRELL Challenger division, was among his senior division teammates who were warming up for a game.
The TRELL Challenger division is composed of senior teams for players aged 15 years old and older and junior teams for players aged four years old to 15 years old. From the season’s April 25 commencement to June 20 closing, TRELL Challenger players can make new friends, spend time with old friends, and experience “a little bit of competition,” according to Kelly. In fact, some players move on to coaching the teams.
“They get to belong to a group,” Kelly said.
Apart from experiencing camaraderie, friendship and competition during each game, longtime coach Jeff Lamb observes the transformation players make by participating in the division, recognizing that each player walks onto the field with a different skill set. Among the players Lamb has worked with is his daughter, who joined the division in 1996.
“They can’t swing a bat at first. Now they can hit a ball,” Lamb said of some of the players he has coached over the years. Players bat during every inning if they want.
Lamb, who remarks that the coaches “have as much fun as the kids do” throughout the season, notes the importance of each player learning how to protect themselves while on the field in addition to honing their skills.
A cornerstone of the Challenger division is the buddy program, led by Susan Kelly and Beth Zamorski. Buddies are volunteers who assist players, when necessary, such as when players run bases or field balls. Buddies must be at least 10 years old. Buddies can expect to play a role in maintaining safety on the field while experiencing a sense of camaraderie and friendship within the division.
According to Kelly and Zamorski, some buddies are a parent or relative to a player in the division, while others are students earning community service hours. Kelly recalls a former buddy who joined as a teenager and returned for multiple seasons, even when he became a college student facing a longer commute to join the players on the field.
As the season approaches its closing day on June 20, the division will come together for its annual picnic and award ceremony. Like the division itself, the event is funded by donors and sponsors. Through donations and sponsorships, players do not have to pay any fees associated with participating in the division.
To sign up for the TRELL Challenger division, become a buddy, donate or become a sponsor, anyone can contact firstname.lastname@example.org.