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27

May, 2017

West Zone gearing up for Champions League World Series in Moreno Valley, California

What started out as a way to honor his daughter who tragically passed away during her first year of life has now become an outlet for over 100 children with special needs to have fun and grow as more independent young people. West Zone Assistant Champions League Director Daniel Watson began the Kelsey’s Heroes Champions League for players with special needs in December of 2012, and today, the league has grown throughout Indio, California and the Champions program, overall, is vibrant throughout Southern California and around the world.

“People started forgetting her birthday -- the day she died,” said Watson of his daughter, Kelsey. “It was upsetting to me and my wife, who didn’t want to see her memory die. I said, ‘I’m going to start a Champions League out here in my daughter’s name.’ It’s kind of blown up from there. We have 100 kids playing and it’s now a year-round sports program.”

Unanimously adopted by the PONY Baseball and Softball International Board of Directors in 2009, the Champions League is a league designed to nurture children with special needs, as they pursue their dreams of participating in team sports in one of America’s favorite pastimes in a fun and safe setting. Protect Our Nation’s Youth represents all children and young adults, regardless of ability. To learn more about PONY’s Champions League, click here.

The Champions & GoldenVoice Baseball Game 3 from Film Gold on Vimeo.

This year, Kelsey’s Heroes’ season, as well as many other Champions Leagues’ season in Southern California, will culminate with the West Zone Champions League World Series in Moreno Valley on Saturday, June 10. The event will be held at Morrison Park (26667 Dracea Ave., Moreno Valley, CA 92555). In addition to all of those who participated in 2016: Indio, Kelsey’s Heroes, Moreno Valley, Bill’s Special Kids, Placentia, Whittier, Loma Linda and Mira Mesa, the tournament is looking to host even more teams and players in 2017. Watson sees big things for the event this year and beyond.

In addition to baseball, Watson’s Kelsey’s Heroes Champions program sponsors other sports like basketball, swimming and bocce, and they even hold events like family nights and dance nights, thanks to sponsors like Target. He also has dreams to get the players out on a Saturday before the season starts to Petco Field to play a game, in addition to other possibilities.

“That’s where my passion arises,” said Watson. “Whether that be from my daughter and just wanting to keep her name alive, and now I see these kids out there and I just want to make the program progress.”

Watson is a proponent of allowing players, even ones with special needs, independence, so that they can prove to themselves that they can accomplish goals, like playing baseball, just like their classmates. He recalled how a few years ago, when the team participated in a jamboree with Moreno Valley, how the people in Moreno Valley were astonished to see how well the kids were playing together.

"These kids are like any other kids,” said Watson. “They want to be pushed. They want to be baseball players. So we played Moreno Valley, and they had never seen anything like this. So we played them the following year and Moreno Valley was a lot better.”


“Now to see Indio (Kelsey’s Heroes) and Moreno Valley (Bill's Special Kids) play each other, it’s an amazing event,” Watson continued. “These kids are hitting balls out of the park -- they’re sliding, turning double plays. You have to work with them. You can’t just spoon-feed them. That’s really where I would like to see the program go to – a real World Series where these kids actually get on the field and no coaches out there. That’s how we play. There are no coaches out there in the older divisions. These kids are like Bronco and Pony age.”

Photos from the 2016 West Zone Champions World Series
 
 
 

“These kids needed this,” said Watson. “Being able to showcase them, and I’m hoping we get some media and TV, and the more kids who see these kids play at this level and have that much fun, the more kids will come out. I think, right now, awareness is probably the biggest thing that needs to happen. People just aren’t aware that these programs exist.”

For the parent or guardian who is on the fence about letting their child(ren) participate in the Champions program, Watson said the players will reap bountiful intrinsic benefits that will help them now, as well as down the road in life. He says talking to other parents in the league is the most important thing to do if you are skeptical, but he already hears success stories all the time.



“I have parents telling me everyday my child is doing so much better in school,” said Watson. “My child is focused. My child is listening more. Instead of just being in the special needs class, he’s at the top of his class, and the only thing in his life that has changed is the fact that he is a part of the program. They’re learning to focus. They’re learning to follow instructions. It’s just amazing what sports in a kid’s life will do.”

If you are looking to learn more about the Champions program in Southern California and/or the West Zone Champions League World Series, PONY encourages you to contact our West Zone Champions League Director, Lonnie Smith (l.smith@pony.org), our West Zone Assistant Champions League Director, Daniel Watson (d.watson@pony.org) and Southeast Assistant Regional Director Rhonda Dubski (r.dubski@pony.org). 

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