Monday, April 5, 2010

A Miracle Field of Dreams

The crack of the bat, cheers from the stands, and smell of hotdogs are obvious signs that a baseball game is taking place. It’s not until you notice a young boy rounding first base in his wheelchair that you realize this isn’t any ordinary little league game. As its name implies, this field truly is a miracle for hundreds of athletes with mental and/or physical challenges who can now enjoy America’s favorite pastime.

For most of our kids, playing sports is an important part of life, not just for them but for the whole family. For children with physical or mental disabilities, it is often difficult to take advantage of this wonderful outlet. Fortunately, for kids in one of the 200 towns in the US and Puerto Rico with a Miracle League, playing baseball is easy, and lots of fun.

“It’s really about giving all kids a chance to enjoy the camaraderie that comes from playing on a team when they’re playing sports,” explains Senator Stephen M. Sweeney, who spearheaded a field in Gloucester County, NJ. “These kids get the thrill, like any other kid, of getting to hit a ball and round the bases, whether it’s someone pushing you in a wheelchair, or using a walker, it’s just having fun.”

The Miracle League Organization which believes that every child deserves a chance to play baseball, including those with physical disabilities. The kids wear the uniforms of Major League Baseball teams and use special bats and balls. The field has its own scoreboard and the players get to hear their names announced. Buddies are available to assist players when necessary.

“It’s a nice mesh with traditional Little League,” says Fred Keating, Director of Education and Disability Services, Gloucester County. “These are children who would have never had the opportunity to play ball. They watch it on TV, maybe go to a Phillies game, talk about it at home and may watch a brother or sister play. But they wouldn’t have gotten the opportunity to put on a glove and a jersey, go on the field and have people cheer them.”

Adds Senator Sweeney, “It’s a real baseball league. These kids go to practice, they learn how to hit and throw and catch. They’ve been given an opportunity to be in a league of their own with a special field to play on.”

JJ Golick, an 11 year old slugger from Waterford, has been diagnosed with Asperger’s Disease and other related issues. He tried playing baseball in regular Little League, but found it too challenging. “I love baseball,” says the first baseman. “I love being able to get another chance to play. In this league we have the buddies that pitch great, and there’s no pressure. I love to hit home runs!”

Adds his mother, Denise, “This field means everything. My son, having special needs, wasn’t capable of getting the help that he would need on the baseball field. For him to be able to play a game that he absolutely loves has been amazing. It was truly inspiring to see the smile on his face as he hit the ball over the fence. It really brought him to life and brought back a love of sports for him that had kind of died here in town because he couldn’t play.”
The facility is 14,900 square feet, including the dugouts. The field is an asphalt playing surface made to Little League dimensions, and allows for handicapped accessibility. It is covered with a rubberized surface that provides color to the field, is durable, and offers a degree of safety.

Miracle Field is being enjoyed year-round by other kids in addition to the Miracle League, including the school kids at Bankbridge Elementary School who use it during the day to accommodate Adaptive Physical Education, therapy, and recreation. Camden County recently made a financial contribution to partner in the project, and will bring in other teams to compete. The field is also open to the community and will be available to host Special Olympics events.

“Watching smiles on children and their parents is just a wonderful feeling,” says Senator Sweeney. “It’s something I’m really proud of.”

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