In 1997 a youth baseball association’s coach invited the first disabled child to play baseball on his team; watching this 7 year old in his wheelchair attending every game and every practice while cheering on his 5 year old brother play American’s favorite pastime, baseball. For the past six years, the Miracle League National Office and other chapters have made it possible for children with physical and mental disabilities to achieve the same dream as their healthy peers-to play ball. These children get a reprieve from their daily challenges as soon as they step or roll out onto the ball field.
In 1998, the Miracle League was formed to provide opportunities for all children to play baseball regardless of their ability. The children with disabilities in the community had expressed the desire to dress in uniforms, make plays in the field, and round the bases just like their healthy peers. The league began with 35 players on four teams.
There were no programs for the Miracle League to copy. It was decided that:
• Every player bats once each inning
• All base runners are safe
• Every player scores a run before the inning is over (last one up gets a home run)
• Community children and volunteers serve as ‘buddies’ to assist the players
• Each team and each player wins every game
The main concern was that the Miracle League teams played on the same grass fields as main stream, presenting potential safety hazards for players in wheelchairs or walkers.
In its spring, 1999 season, the Miracle League gained support and became a source of pride for all involved as participation grew to over 50 players. During that season, the magnitude of the need for such a program was recognized. It was learned that there are over 75,000 plus children in Metro Atlanta who has a disability to some degree that keeps them from participating in team sports. That is when the dream of building a unique baseball complex for these special children was conceived.
The Rotary Clubs of Rockdale County and Conyers stepped forward to form the Rotary Miracle League Fund, Inc., a 501 (c) 3 organization. The new organization had two objectives: (1) raise the funds necessary to build a special complex with facilities that meet the unique needs of the Miracle League players, and (2) assist in the outreach efforts for the Miracle League.
With the help of community volunteers and companies, the design and construction of the first Miracle League complex was underway. The complex would include a custom-designed field with a cushioned rubberized turf to help prevent injuries, wheelchair accessible dugouts, and a completely flat surface to eliminate any barriers to wheelchair-bound or visually impaired players. The design also included three grass fields, which could be converted to the synthetic turf as the league grew. In addition, accessible restrooms, a concession stand, and picnic pavilion were included in the design.
The Miracle League complex was completed in April 2000. On opening day, the Miracle League rosters had grown to over 100 players. The players raced around the bases and chatted with their teammates in the dugouts as they celebrated. Nicholas Slade, a player who had been in a coma just a week before, threw out the first ball.
The players’ enthusiasm has continued to grow. By spring, 2002, over 250 players filled the Miracle League rosters. The parents tell stories of their children insisting on playing despite bouts with kidney stones, broken bones, and recent hospitalizations. The thrill of playing, the cheers from the stands, and the friendships they develop make the Miracle League Field an oasis away from their everyday battles.
“Buddies” assist Miracle League player. These buddies are mainstream children who play baseball, youth church groups, boys and girls scouts to mention a few. As a result, the parents, children and volunteers are all brought together – special need and mainstream alike in a program, which serves them all through service to children with special needs. The program is opened to children from any community and, until April 2002 was one of a kind.
The Miracle League has received local and national media attention. The league has been chronicled in the local newspaper, televised both locally on NBC.
ABC Connecting With Kids and FOX Atlanta affiliates and nationally on CNN, MSNBC and Fox Sports. In July 2001, the league was profiled on a segment of HBO’s Real Sports. Articles profiling the league appeared in People, Family Circle and Rotary International magazines. In January 2002 two men from the Miracle League were awarded the Martin Luther King Humanitarian Award and on January 24th PAX TV’s “It A Miracle” told the story of Conyers Miracle League Player Lauren Gunder. February 2002 the Miracle League Players were featured in Rotary Internationals’ PSA, chosen out of 500 applicants. Winter of 2002 the Miracle League again was profiled in the Georgia Tech Alumni Magazine. January of 2002 won the 11ALIVE TV Community Service Award and June of 2002 took the Jefferson Award, The American Institute for Public Services, founded by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and Senator Robert Taft, Jr. The publicity from these media calendar, coupled with positive word of mouth, raises awareness among the families of special need children and allows the Miracle League to take the program across the country.
As of September 2006 there are 157 Miracle League Organizations across the country, 48 completed rubberized fields, 60 fields under construction and another 30 plus groundbreakings scheduled including Puerto Rico. Our immediate goal of 500 plus Miracle League fields including several international locations, will serve approximately 1.3 million children, this being made possible with the help of communities, volunteers, parents, donators, individual sponsors, and corporate sponsors, this program will be offered to every city in the country so special needs children around the globe will have this same opportunity. The Miracle League believes;
“Every Child Deserves A Chance to Play Baseball.”