Asphalt poured, walkways swept and construction has been completed. Now, Federal Way National Little League is ready to play ball.
In August 2018, the Challenger division of the Federal Way National Little League received a $50,000 grant provided by the King County Youth and Amateur Sports Grants fund to renovate the baseball facilities, making them more accessible for those who use electric and self-propelled wheelchairs or other mobility aids.
Founded in 2010, the Challenger division is a dedicated program for boys and girls, ages 5 to 21, with intellectual and physical challenges.
The previous walkways of the baseball facilities consisted of loose gravel and dirt, except for an approximately 3-foot-wide paved path that only ran down the center entrance of the complex.
Now, a smooth 10-foot-wide paved path graces the entryway and travels to all four baseball fields, concessions and the bathroom facilities — leaving the entire complex accessible to all abilities.
“Not only our Challenger kids, but anyone with a wheelchair or walker had a difficult time,” said Charles Heitman, president of Federal Way National Little League. “Now they can go to any field they want. It shows the care we have for our players and fans that visit the complex.”
Northwest Asphalt and Miles Resources completed the improvements earlier in January, just in time for spring season sign-ups.
FWNLL has allowed Miles Resources to use the spacious baseball field parking lot to park equipment while working on various road projects, to which the resource company returned a favor.
“They sent in two days straight of [machinery], all volunteer,” Heitman said. “It was very generous.”
Volunteerism is a strong pillar of the league’s existence.
The league property, located at 450 SW Campus Drive in Federal Way, is privately owned by the league. Since the Federal Way National Little League was founded in 1959, the fields and all encompassing aspects have been fully volunteer-operated.
From the umpires to the concession stand workers and everyone in between: “No one here is paid a penny,” Heitman said.
The volunteers may all have their own reasons for dedicating their time, but it’s simple — they do it because they love the game, the community and the kids, Heitman said.
“This is their exit from the struggles of school or anything like that,” he said. “They come in here and this is like their Disneyland. They can be here and be a kid.”
This year is the league’s 60th anniversary.
Opening day will be a celebration of the league’s legacy to include all and have fun on the field, said Gary Haven, director of facility rentals and softball coach for the league.
Mark your calendars for Saturday, April 27 as FWNLL welcomes their 60th year with a baseball jamboree and various community events, he said.
January’s mild days and frequent sunshine are hopefully good weather omens for the upcoming season.
Haven has been volunteering with the league since the ‘80s, and has been heavily involved since 2002.
He said he wasn’t too strong of a baseball player, but when his girls wanted to play softball, he took it upon himself to become the best coach he could be.
“I started doing a lot of research, a lot of clinics, just to make sure I was the best coach I could be for them.”
Haven has coached a few softball teams in the area, but the complex is his home, he said. Last year, he returned to coaching a youngsters t-ball team and the 13-14 girls softball team.
“They’re a blast. It was one of the most fun seasons I’ve ever had with all those girls,” he said.
Volunteer opportunities are available in various positions including coaching and umpiring. The league hosts frequent trainings and clinics to teach volunteers how to understand one of America’s favorite pastimes.
To register in person and see the fields for yourself, visit the FWNLL complex the next two Saturdays, Jan. 19 and Jan. 26, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. For more information, visit fwnll.org.