Bristol Sports Hall of Fame member Ed Beardsley, shown delivering the first pitch to officially kick off the “Challenger Division” of Little League Baseball in 1990 at Breen Field.On the right is “Dugout”, the official mascot of Little League Baseball. Dugout is congratulating the players as they are introduced to roaring ovations.
1990: Little League Baseball launches the first full season of the Challenger Division for mentally and physically disabled children. … Little League in now enjoyed by children in thirty-nine countries.
Sadly, Ed passed away in 2002. It is with great respect and admiration that the Bristol Sports Hall of Fame, on behalf children everywhere, we “Thank You.”
Bristol Press rewind from 2002
Here’s the first part of an editorial in The Bristol Press from that time this week:
“In Bristol and throughout the world of Little League Baseball, Edgar Beardsley and the Challenger Division are virtually synonymous. This laudatory program, initially the outgrowth of Beardsley’s desire to have his son, David, and a few other local youngsters with various disabilities play baseball now offers more than 25,000 children who 20 years ago would have been relegated to the sidelines a chance to participate in the national pastime.
“Sadly, Ed Beardsley passed away Tuesday. His death represents a great loss for his adoring family and countless friends as well as for many people who may not have experienced the privilege of knowing him personally but admire his efforts.”
More on the History behind Challenger
Ed Beardsley arrived in Bristol with his family in time to spend his junior and senior years at the former Bristol Central High School. Athletics was an important part of his life and he played At Bristol High, where he was best known for his basketball abilities.
He would go on to Mary Ann and together they had five children, four boys and one girl, and athletics were a part of his immediate family, too. One son, David, was nine years younger than his nearest sibling and he had a severe learning disability. David and his classmates at school were confined and weren’t given the chance to participate in sports, so Beardsley approached their teacher one day to see if any of them would be interested in gathering to play some form of baseball.
This became a hit and Ed would eventually have a handful of kids getting together at the Edgewood Little League. He received permission from the physical education at the school and the Little League and on the first day he had three boys and two girls show up, including David. It was a slow process for the kids to adopt to the game. There was a Whiffle Ball that was tossed around and Ed introduced them to home plate and the process of running the bases. Step-by-step the kids. As far as David went, these gatherings between May and September brought him success in seeing his friends also improving as time went on.
The program would eventually become a part of towns elsewhere out-of-state and within the country, with Ed’s grow to 19 kids and then another eight by 1989. Part of this success was that playing meant wearing an actual baseball uniform and telling other kids at school that they had been playing the game, also. A 1989 photo captured David Bearsdsley, aplayer from Texas, and U.S. Senators Bob Dole and John Kerry posing with the announcement of the formation of the Little League Challenger Division.
Little League officially took over the reins of the idea and named it the Challenger Division. At this point, there were over 25,000 handicapped athletes benefiting from the program.
In 2004, The Bristol Press wrote a story on the Police Benevolent Association hosting the Challenger Little League Tournament, one where more than $75,000 had been donated to the league. Bristol officer Jeff Beauchamp headed the tournament and was interviewed along with officer Sean Greger. A great part of this tournament was the donations of funds and prizes from Bristol’s citizens and businesses. Following Ed’s death, the tournament was named in his honor.
Every summer until recent years, Challenger Fun Day was held for participating Little Leagues in the state and nearby. Today, the program is held annually for the local challenger players. Dee Valerio-Matyka took over the challenger programs after the passing of Ed Beadsley. His wife, Ann, many Beardsley family members, friends and civic-minded individuals volunteer for the special day. The event has included carnival rides, a train ride, concert, and the best picnic-type food around.
One year, Keith Goralski, who would work at ESPN, wrote a story on the subject in which he talked to many of the volunteers. One was Chris Strahowski, who grew up in Bristol before doing so at CCSU and behind.
“I was working on the softball toss,” Strahowski said. “There was a kid with an arm that couldn’t be more than six inches. He threw the ball from his neck and hit the target 3-for-4 times. It was amazing. He overcame extreme adversity, and now he’s out there playing baseball.”
Bristol Press columnist Bob Montgomery has also been a volunteer.
“It’s amazing to see,” Montgomery said. “These kids have a ball. As I see it, they feel they are playing the game just like the high school kids. And, they’re having a great time doing so.. the uniform, the batting helmet, the bat and ball and the surroundings. It’s big time for them and just as much for the valued volunteers, too.
“My favorite Ed Beardsley photo was taken many years ago and it captured Ed on the pitcher’s mound tossing the ball to Roger Bartholomew. Every time I see it, I think back on what a great man Ed was. He was unassuming and kind, someone I looked up to when he played basketball in high school. You know how it is. I was in the eighth grade and the high school players were your heroes. Well, he was one in more ways.”
Another great photo took place when Ed and his son joined Phoenix CEO Bob Fiondella from Bristol and local representative Nancy Johnson were on the steps of the National Capital with regards to efforts to make challenger nationally known.
When the initial Little League challenger Award was presented, and that was in 1998, it was presented to Ed Beardsley. He and his wife also attended the first “Tee Ball” on the South Lawn” Challenger Game with then-president George W. Bush, also a big baseball fan himself.
Sadly, Ed died in November 2002, but his dream continues to flourish.
Dee Valerio-Matyka was groomed to replace Ed Beardsley before his death. She agreed to take over the “challenge” with the hopes of continued and needed volunteers. This included the annual Challenger Fun Day at the Eastern Regional Little League, but in 2014, this program was scaled down because of a long-time valued supporter, the annual police department golf tournament. It had gone from a regional event to local because of this. She remains today in heading up the program with Beardsley family members and friend volunteers.