“Whatever they want to do, you want to do. You are their best friend for the next hour and a half. You have to be selfless.” It’s the message Andy Hort shares while addressing the group of volunteers each week.

At James J. Walker Park, Hort has created an environment where no one can strike out. And where every smile is considered a home run. Whether batting, running, or simply sitting in the grass is someone’s thing, there’s a place for everyone.

What You Need To Know

  • Andy Hort was inspired to start a challengers team as part of the Greenwich Village Little League after coaching with them for 14 years. He knew he could create a space where everyone could participate

  • Starting with just three participants, the "team" quickly grew and so did the volunteers. Parents, volunteers, and kids alike can't wait to get back each week to participate

  • Though sometimes nervous at first, volunteers quickly find that these kids are just like them and simply want to have a good time

Dana Greenberg has been bringing her son for the last two years, wishing she had heard about it sooner.

“The most rewarding part is hearing him say I had fun at baseball,” Greenberg said.

Six years ago, Hort started the Challengers team in the Greenwich Village Little League after coaching for 14 years. He was inspired by the theme of a fundraiser he attended.

“The theme was, how do you say hello to someone with a disability?” Hort remembered. “And the answer is hello. And I turned to my friend and said, how do we not have a challenger division? And he said, I see that you will be starting one. And I did.”

On his first day, Hort had only six kids attend. Now over 60 kids are participating, with twice as many volunteers.

“The buddy system is really the secret sauce that I found out that a lot of our disabled children, that they deal with parents, they deal with teachers, they deal with therapists, they deal with doctors, but they don’t have a lot of interaction with other children,” he said.

Some of the young volunteers are nervous at first, but they quickly realize it’s all about having fun.

“I find that when we take a child and put ‘em with the child, the disabilities disappear and they just become children and they just have fun as children,” Hort said.

“The volunteers that come are amazing, they try so hard,” Greenberg mentioned. “They really make kids who are not so typical, feel typical and really feel part of a group and really feel part of a team.”

Nicole Accimeus brings both of her autistic children each week. Though they’re on opposite ends of the spectrum, they both agree that it’s a fun time.

“I love the fact that they don’t call us disabled children,” Accimeus said. “I love that they give us like a different name and they can showcase their inner personalities.”

The result: an environment that’s just as rewarding for everyone.

“You have to be selfless,” Hort acknowledged. “So I actually think the program’s equally as good for the volunteers and the challenger kids.”

For creating a league all their own, Andy Hort is our New Yorker of the Week.