Friends, family and team members came flowing out from behind the dugouts at the end of the Saturday practice for the Montclair Bulldogs Challenger team last week at Kaveny Field.

The throng was there not only to watch their children play baseball, but to honor the founder of the town's Challenger baseball program.

Every Saturday between April and June, for more than 15 years, Steve Singer has been leading a group of children with physical or developmental disabilities — a group whose members at one time weren't able to play the sport — in playing baseball at Kaveny Field.

The June 11 celebration, organized by parents, was a complete surprise to Singer.  Parents and friends of the club gave him a plaque as well as a baseball-shaped sign that is now prominently placed on the center field fence at Kaveny.

"Oh my God, yeah, I had no idea," Singer said. 

He believes his years leading the program have been an unqualified success. "We gave 150 to 200 kids the opportunity to play baseball that never had a chance to play before," he said.

A little more than 15 years ago, Montclair Baseball and Softball Club officers came to Singer, asking if he would form a Challenger team.

Without hesitation, he went ahead and organized the Montclair Bulldogs.

Singer, a retired attorney, had seen how tough it was on his son, Lucas, who has special needs and was playing at the time in the later stages of youth baseball. Instead of playing in Montclair, Lucas was playing in the Challenger program in Morris County. "The game was just too fast for him," he said about his son’s reaching 11 years old.

In the first year, the Bulldogs had 10 kids. Over the years its peak has hit 30 kids.

Montclair Bulldogs players surround Singer as they sign and exchange baseballs on Singer’s last day as head of the program. (EDWARD KENSIK/STAFF)
Montclair Bulldogs players surround Singer as they sign and exchange baseballs on Singer’s last day as head of the program. (EDWARD KENSIK/STAFF)

One parent, Leslie Kunkin, who has had a daughter, Jessica, in the program, pointed to the reasons she thought the program was such a huge success.

"What makes him so amazing is his huge heart and his absolute belief in every kid with no judgment or condescension," Kunkin said. "He treats every child there with total dignity and equity and really wants every single one to succeed, whatever that may mean for each one. He is endlessly patient and meets every child at their own level."

Singer said it was time to hand over leading the program and believes it will be in good hands with Adam Scigliano, who has been helping him for the last couple of years.

"I just wanted to make sure that the program continues," he said. "It makes for a good transition."

But he will not be just going away. Singer will be helping Scigliano in what he considers a reversal in job description. Where before Singer was leading the club and Scigliano was helping out, now it will be Singer assisting and Scigliano heading the program.

Scigliano said he has learned a significant amount from how Singer has run the program.

“Steve has an unbelievable heart, and he treats every child as if they were his own," he said. "Each child in our program has their own story, but he makes sure to treat them all the same and finds a way to bring a smile to each and every one of their faces. 

“His patience and eagerness to give everyone a true, fun baseball experience is genuinely contagious and inspires everyone that comes to help out each week."

This season, the Bulldogs played their first game against another town’s program when they traveled to Clifton. Scigliano hopes to have more contests with other towns in the future.

In addition to Scigliano, the Challenger team receives help from different town clubs, like the 12-year-old traveling Bulldogs baseball team.

"That has helped make the program work, and they give us some extra hands," Singer said. "It helped significantly with the one-on-one instruction."