(8/8) Five-year-old Jimmy Brittain had practiced all week for the Thurmont
Challenger Little League game on the South Lawn of the White House.
He wasn't working on his batting or fielding. His parents were giving him
etiquette lessons. "Hello, Mr. President." "Thank you, Mr. President."
"Goodbye, Mr. President."
Only in existence for a year, the Thurmont Challenger Little League team was
chosen to play "Tee Ball on the South Lawn" at the White House.
"This is a pretty cool opportunity for our team," said 12-year-old Troy
Baisey, who also played with the Challenger team last year when they played an
exhibition game at the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa.
Little League's Challenger Division is open to mentally and physically
disabled children from ages 5-18. It is Little League's fastest-growing
division, with more than 28,000 players in the U. S. and other countries.
"Challenger is a great opportunity for kids to do things like other kids do
without too much pressure," said Nina Vitrolff, who had three grandchildren -
Brian, David and Richard Matthews - playing on the Thurmont team.
The Thurmont Challengers, sponsored by the Frederick Civitan, played the
Challenger team from Shady Spring, W. Va. in the 15th one-inning game. The
games have been held at the White House since 2001.
The teams were selected by Little League International based on their
proximity to Washington and the strength of their charter organizations.
The team left Thurmont on Saturday morning in two tour buses that had a
police escort through town. At the White House, the team had a pre-game tour of
the President's house.
"Jimmy kept asking, 'Is that the President? Is that the President?' He even
asked some of the security people and others who were around, 'Are you the
President?' It happened a number of times," said Angela Brittain, Jimmy's
Following the tour, the teams gathered on a specially built field on the
White House south lawn. No scores were kept and no runs or outs were counted.
Every player on both teams batted once and played on defense for the one-inning
Jimmy was the very first batter. The crowd applauded as he stepped up to the
ball that President Bush had placed on the tee to start the game.
He swung and missed.
Undeterred, he took another swing and hit the ball into the infield. He ran
along with Brad Little to first base.
Brad was Jimmy's buddy. Each Challenger player has a buddy available to help
with running and fielding if needed.
As the players came to the plate, each was loudly cheered.
Robert Shaffer was the clean-up batter. In Challenger Little League that's
the last batter. Standing uneasily without his walker, Robert hit the ball off
the tee. He grabbed his walker and moved with relative speed from base to base
as his hit was considered an in-field home run.
Robert, who had joked about trying not to break the White House windows when
he hit, said after the game, "It was awesome. Just getting to play the game was
Once the Thurmont team had batted, they took to the field to deal with the
Shady Spring batters.
Following the game, President Bush and Honorary Commissioner Willie Mays, a
baseball legend, presented each player, buddy and coach with autographed
baseballs and posed for pictures.
Jimmy was the first player to get his ball and picture taken and Brittain
told this story about her son.
After all Jimmy's preparation for the meeting, when he got back to the
dugout, his mother asked him, "Jimmy, did you tell the President thank you?"
"That wasn't the real president," Jimmy said.
"Yes, it was, honey," Brittain said.
Upset, to have missed his opportunity, Jimmy tried to run back to President
Bush and thank him. His father stopped him.
Following the game, the teams enjoyed a picnic on the south lawn. President
Bush didn't attend because he had to leave for another appointment on Marine
Some of the players went to watch him board the helicopter that had landed
on the south lawn. As he climbed on board, Jimmy called out, "Thank you for the
ball, Mr. President."