A special coach

Outside a bowling lane, in the background, snapping pictures with his camera stood Alan Webb, an elderly man.

He didn't have any children or grandchildren bowling. But he's connected to this group of children who were having fun at Irvine Lanes on a Saturday afternoon.

He smiled as he took photos. Most likely the photos would be a part of a scrapbook or other photo albums that Webb keeps of his "family" of special children.

Webb, 77, a Huntington Beach resident, enjoys his work as a volunteer baseball coach for the District 62 Challenger Division.

He'll sometimes set up fun outings, like to the bowling alley. Mostly, he's just around to help with the Challenger Division.

Webb has been around for the past 23 years. He's made an impact with special-needs children and their families with his support and eagerness to teach baseball to the kids.

"I think the reason I always stayed with the Challenger Division is because I love the kids," Webb said. "I like helping them. The parents are wonderful. In regular Little League, the parents would come up to me and say, 'The umpire did a bad job,' or, 'Why didn't my kid pitch today?'"

Webb was a team manager and on the Little League board for about 17 years at Covina American Little League and Ocean View Little League. After his son, Chris, finished eligibility at OVLL, Webb stayed with the league and was later asked to help with the Challenger Division.

"Nobody matches him as far as dedication and reliability," said Chrissy Land, the District 62 Challenger Division president, who has been with the Challenger Division for the past six years. "We can always count on Alan to be there. He loves it. He doesn't have any children of his own in the program. I think it's the families that keep him coming back."

Webb is now a manager for the Dodgers and is listed as the Challenger Division's player agent. My 8-year-old daughter, Trinity, is on the Dodgers. Webb usually smiles when he sees her, and Trinity likes to pound her fist against his for his approval.

Webb enjoys dealing with all the children. He also enjoyed it when high school baseball teams from Edison, Huntington Beach and Fountain Valley helped the little baseball players this season.

A photo album of all the Challenger Division teams he's been a part of is kept in a special place in his home. Fifteen open pages in the back of the book are ready for additions.

This year, Webb has been nominated for the Little League Challenger Award, national recognition for volunteers who work with special-needs children. The winner will be announced after the regular season at the end of this month.

But Webb doesn't necessarily do this work for the recognition. He agreed to let me write about him because it was his hope that it would help publicize the Challenger Division.

"I feel that there are so many out there that don't know about our teams," Webb said. "I would hope more people [would] know."

District 62 includes leagues from Huntington Beach, Fountain Valley, Westminster and Costa Mesa. Webb wants the Challenger Division to grow and include more players.

"I feel like I'm helping the kids have fun," Webb said. "I want them to enjoy the game of baseball, learn a little bit about it."

Webb also leads practices with the kids. When he first managed a game, he saw one of the kids run to third base after a hit. He wanted to help them learn about baseball, so he added one practice each week.

"I just fell in love with it," Webb said of working with the Challenger Division. "It's something I've enjoyed so much. As long as I can stay in shape, I figure I can keep going."

Webb didn't play organized baseball while growing up in West Hollywood. He said he was busy with his newspaper route. But he was a big fan of the Brooklyn Dodgers, who later moved to Los Angeles. He said he attended the Dodgers' first game at the Los Angeles Coliseum.

After graduating from Fairfax High, Webb enlisted in the Marine Reserves and later was on active duty for two years. He attended Los Angeles City College and later Cal State Los Angeles.

He worked for McDonnell Douglas, which later became Boeing, and retired in 1999. He has four children from his first marriage and two with his wife, Susie, of 35 years. He also has nine grandchildren and one great granddaughter.

Webb also stays busy with his work as a head usher at Grace Lutheran Church in Huntington Beach. He usually conducts Challenger Division registration and team pictures in a vacant room at the church.

The photos are usually reserved for happy memories, but they've also revealed tragedy. Sometimes the special-needs children miss the photos because of illnesses.

"I went to a funeral once," Webb said of a former player. "That was very sad."

But Webb has mostly happy memories. He taught baseball to a blind girl once and was grateful for the opportunity, he said.

"In the 23 years, I've seen just about any kid you can think of," said Webb, who added that he has learned a great lesson from the kids. "I learned that no matter what your handicap is you can still have fun and enjoy life."

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