In 1997, Georgia’s Rockdale Youth Baseball Association (RYBA) coach Eddie Bagwell noticed a child with disabilities who attended every game and practice, cheering on his brother. Coach Eddie invited the boy to join the team, becoming the first child with a disability to join.
In 1998, the RYBA formed the Miracle League 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 peers.
However, the Miracle League teams played on the same grass fields as the RYBA teams, which presented potential safety hazards for players in wheelchairs or walkers, as the uneven ground was difficult for many to navigate. It became clear the Miracle League needed a baseball field specially designed to accommodate these children.
In 1999, Rotary Clubs of Rockdale County and Conyers formed the Rotary Miracle League Fund, Inc. with two objectives: raise the funds to build special baseball facilities meeting the unique needs of the Miracle League players, and assist in the outreach efforts for the Miracle League.
With the help of companies and community volunteers, the design and construction of the first Miracle League complex was started in Conyers, Georgia. When completed in April 2000, it included a custom-designed field with 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 complex also offers accessible restrooms, a concession stand, and picnic pavilion.
By opening day, the Miracle League roster had grown to over 100 players, and the new field was an immediate success. 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.
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.
The Miracle League of Joliet was conceived early in 2005 when the concept was brought to the attention of Pete and Sharon Ferro. After viewing an informational DVD from the National organization, Pete and Sharon realized children with disabilities in the area, as well as the community as a whole, could benefit from the establishment of a Miracle League in Joliet. After talking to organizations in the community, it became apparent there were many children who would like to play organized baseball, but there was nothing available. The Miracle League of Joliet, however, will change that. The National Miracle League has provided information to help establish the Miracle League of Joliet and act as our support system, but we are responsible for obtaining our own funding.
Since its inception, the Miracle League has been dedicated to providing opportunities for all children to play baseball regardless of their ability. The league began with 35 players on four teams. Today, there are 143 Miracle League Organizations across the country, 41 completed rubberized fields, 61 fields under construction and more than 30 groundbreakings scheduled for 2006.