Venice Challenger Baseball Coach Rich Carroll named a winner of the national 'My Coach, My Hero' award

Venice Challenger Baseball Coach Rich Carroll named a winner of the national 'My Coach, My Hero' award


Rich Carroll, the founder of Venice Challenger Baseball, was named one of two winner of a new national award that recognizes coaches who foster winning on and off the field

VENICE — Coach Rich Carroll, the founder of Venice Challenger Baseball, was tapped as one of two winners in the “My Coach, My Hero” award, presented by Little League Baseball, the Positive Coaching Alliance and Lance Sandwich Crackers.

As part of the award, Lance is making a $5,000 donation to help build Challenger Baseball’s “Field of Dreams,” adjacent to the Gene Whipp Sports Center for Special Athletes and the Robert and Joan Lee Boys & Girls Club.

“It feels really good, I’m just honored,” said Carroll, who did not know he was nominated for the award until he received a call that he won.

Carroll said he was happy about the increased recognition the national award would bring to the Challenger program.

The Challenger Division, which operates under the auspices and insurance of Venice Little League, is all-inclusive. Some players have Down syndrome, and others are autistic. Some walk with canes, while others wheel around the bases.

Venice Challenger Baseball, which became a 501c3 in 2008, has been raising money for the new facility since November 2015.

“The Lance deal just bring it to more people’s eyes,” Carroll said.

The “My Coach, My Hero” award was created this year to celebrate coaches who foster winning on and off the field, according to Chris Graziano, Director of Marketing for Lance.

Lance Sandwich Crackers are the official snack of Little League baseball and softball.

“On the field these coaches exemplify strong leadership and promote honorable sportsmanship, while off the field they inspire their communities by promoting social responsibility within their community and valuing education and academics with their team,” Graziano said via email.

Mike Cooper, a coach in the Hanover, Pennsylvania Little League, who revitalized and then expanded the program in Hanover over the past two years, was also named a winner of the inaugural award.

As part of that expansion, Cooper established a Little League Challenger Division there too.

Carroll and Cooper were both nominated by friends, family or fellow coaches.

The award is co-sponsored along with the Positive Coaching Alliance.

The Alliance, a nonprofit that was founded in 1998, has 18 chapters nationwide and has a mission to create a “positive, character-building youth sports environment that results in better athletes, better people,” according to positivecoach.org.

Challenger season starts again Sept. 14, at Chuck Reiter Field in Venice, and will run until the week before Thanksgiving.

Carroll said he only about $250,000 away from the $1.2 million fundraising goal for the new field at 920 Gulf Coast Boulevard, Venice.

The hope is that the athletes can start playing games there by mid-March or April.

Carroll stressed that he is just a small part of Venice Challenger Baseball, which serves about 135 athletes, who participate in two separate seasons, mid-February until mid-May and Sept. 14 until just before Thanksgiving.

He said that fellow coaches who serve as captains on the field and the volunteer buddies, who walk the bases with the athletes make things possible.

“I’m just the captain driving the ship,” Carroll said. “Those are the people who make Challenger go, not Rich Carroll.

“Our joy is seeing the smiles on the kids faces and hearing them say ‘Let’s play baseball,’ or ‘Let’s go.”

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