The opening of the YMCA Miracle League Field in University City has forever changed baseball for nearly 50 children.Now, it’s their game. They made the team, got a jersey like the pros wear, and all the 5- to 18-year-olds got a turn at bat if they played one of the Saturday games. Every Pirate and Brave was safe on base, and all of the Rangers and Nationals who played scored. Games always end in a tie, so every player has left the field as an MVP. “We had children who are mostly in wheelchairs who put their chairs down for the game,” said Molly Thompson, spokeswoman for the YMCA of Greater Charlotte. “You can see the joy in these children’s faces who have never played before. I think everybody was in tears opening day.” There is also another team of winners on the field each week. They are the 65 or so volunteer coaches, score keepers, umpires, disc jockeys and concession workers.A “player buddy” stays on the field with each child through the game to assist and protect them. Those volunteers give up an hour or more on Saturday mornings, and the games wouldn’t work without them.Volunteers announce each child’s name as they come to bat. A DJ plays a theme song selected by the family as a player readies himself. Parents get to stay in the stands … to watch the games as fans.“A lot of the kids have severe challenges – cerebral palsy, autism,” Thompson said. “It feels like you are witnessing miracles when you are there.”A strong community effort is behind Miracle League teams. Players need a cushioned surface to prevent injuries. The rubber is also suitable for wheelchairs and walkers. The dugouts are also accessible.Today, Miracle League’s network includes about 250 locations and has served more than 200,000 children since 2000. The organization brings the game to children, young adults and adults with special needs around the world.In Charlotte, the idea and significant contributions for a Miracle League came from Bill Allen, one of the owners of the Charlotte Knights. Construction started in May behind the YMCA at 8100 Old Mallard Creek Road. Between 200 and 300 people turned out for opening day, some just to cheer or wave a sign.“A lot of kids live in isolation,” Thompson said. “This is an environment where they are all accepted. The families are in the stands with other parents. They’re connecting.”
Friday, Sep. 28, 2012
In Miracle League, everyone wins
Disabled players get their chance at YMCA field in University City
Learn more: To become a volunteer, donate or register to play, visit http://ymcamiracleleague.org.