ARDMORE, Pennsylvania (WPVI) – “These kids, they stay active. They’re some of the best kids you’ve ever met,” Wally Orlov said. “And it allows them to compete and have fun, to make friends and memories.”

The Eagles are the president of the Lower Marion Minor League. In 1989, the Minor League established a nationwide Challenger Division include individuals with physical and intellectual disabilities. It eventually reached the town of Lower Marion.

“We have been running this program for 15-20 years,” Orlov said. “And when my parents reached out to me and said, ‘Can you play basketball?’, I couldn’t say no.”

So Challenger basketball program was launched. The Penn Valley Junior Sports Association opens registration in December, around the same time as its standard entertainment leagues. It partners about 50 children with special needs with friends to help them have fun and be competitive on the court.

“In a community with special needs, they don’t necessarily get it as often as other children in our community,” he said. “And it flattens the playing field a little bit.”

One of the players is 17-year-old Izzy Hyson.

“Coach Wally keeps saying I know how to shoot and dribble very well,” she said. “I’ve played it for a long time and it’s a really good sport.”

Izzy’s mom, Chris, says her daughter has learned a lot over the years of swimming, tennis, baseball and basketball.

“It’s a great way for all players, of course, to learn new skills, but to make friends, to develop confidence,” Chris said. “Izzy has just grown tremendously because of such programs. We are very grateful to them.”

The winter basketball program will end next week. But fortunately for students like Izzy, the fun doesn’t have to stop there.

Similar programs in the Lower Marion area include Challenger Soccer and Challenger Baseball. In addition, local high schools are participating in the Best Buddies program to provide even more interaction and socialization in the community with special needs.

Lower League Marion Baseball Challenger It is expected to begin this spring and again in the fall. Then, winter will come, basketball fans can find themselves on the court again.

“I will do it, I hope, every year while I’m alive,” said Valya Orlov. “From year to year we love these children.”

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