West U’s dynamic Joni Hruska Fichter has been honored with the 2014 national Little League Challenger Division Award.
Fichter was recognized for “her generosity and dedication to making sure all children in Houston, Texas, have a meaningful Little League experience.” The award is from Little League® Baseball and Softball.
President and owner of a staffing firm and mother of two, Fichter has always had a passion for helping others, especially those with special needs. She was first introduced to Little League Challenger Division when a friend showed her a news story. After watching the tear jerking video and sharing it with her family, and knowing Little League was at the heart of the community, she knew West U was the perfect place to start a Challenger Division.
“I’ve seen what our community could do, if you give us a project we got it done,” Fichter said. “Everyone stepped up.”
After getting the go ahead from the League President in 2004, Fichter started establishing the league’s Challenger Division. On the first day of signups, West U’s goal for the Challenger Division was to have two teams of nine – they had 48 players sign up that first year, 30 more than expected.
During the last ten years, the number of players in the West U Challenger Division has steadily increased. In 2014, the league had 150 players on eight different teams with more than 300 buddies helping out.
When choosing buddies, Fichter saw a great benefit in having middle school students help out.
“Watching the students interact with special needs kids, they treat them like friends, interact like normal, just to see how they can be inclusive rather than staring at their disabilities,” Fichter said.
With Fichter’s help, the West U Challenger Division players have had the opportunity to participate in once-in-a-lifetime opportunities throughout the years. In 2005, West U was invited to play on the White House lawn.
In 2008, they participated in the Little League Baseball® World Series Challenger Exhibition Game in South Williamsport, and West U Challenger players have also had the opportunity to play at the Texas State tournament games in Tyler, Texas. Showing the true Little League spirit of volunteering, Fichter has helped multiple other leagues start and grow their Challenger Divisions.