Thirteen-year old Blake Rice loves sports.Blake’s father, South Mecklenburg High science teacher Matt Rice, says the challenges of autism have prevented Blake from participating in organized leagues.However, a fundraiser last year at South Mecklenburg High School helped Rice find an alternative to satisfy Blake’s desire to play on a team.Led by the school’s baseball program and supporters, South Meck raised approximately $3,200 for the YMCA Miracle League at the University City YMCA.Miracle League is a baseball league for children with special needs.Last March’s fundraiser was such a success that the South Meck baseball team has made it an annual event. This year’s event – which will feature varsity and junior-varsity baseball games, a Sabres alumni home-run derby and a silent auction – will be March 1-2 at the school.Considering the organizers of last year’s event had about a month to prepare, they say the upcoming fundraiser will be even more successful. The goal is to raise $4,000, which helps reduce the cost of player registration fees.The Miracle League played its first season last fall and had four teams of 10-12 kids. Games are designed so every player gets to bat and score a run in each of the two innings played.The spring season is scheduled for April 13 through June 8, with games played Saturday mornings.“The Miracle League really is the first time (Blake’s) been able to participate in any group sports,” said Rice, who lives in Sedgefield. “He loves sports, but the social nature of sports makes it very difficult for him. It was amazing to see all the kids get better throughout the season.”South Meck’s commitment to The Miracle League is led by varsity baseball coach Jon Tuscan. During a visit to his native Michigan in fall 2011, Tuscan visited a Miracle League field and watched a couple videos about the program.“It blew me away,” Tuscan said.He returned home to Charlotte, and soon after that he read an article in The Charlotte Observer about a Miracle League field being built locally. Tuscan contacted the YMCA about lending a hand, then solicited help from supporters of the Sabres program, mostly parents.South Meck pitcher Austin Wynn, then a junior, was especially affected by his team’s support of the Miracle League. He was the starting and winning pitcher in the fundraising game, an 11-1 victory against visiting Concord Cox Mill.As the Miracle League began play last fall, Wynn volunteered to be one of the program’s “buddies”: people who assist the special-needs players on the field.When he showed up for the second game of the season, Wynn was randomly assigned to accompany a member of the Nationals team – a strong and handsome boy named Blake.Wynn did not know at the time that Rice was Blake’s father. Wynn became close to the Rice family during the season, and even attended Blake’s birthday party in October.“It was very rewarding,” said Wynn, who lives in Cameron Wood. “Seeing how happy they were to play baseball put a smile on my face. It taught me to not take things for granted and that I’m fortunate to play the sport I love.”Wynn’s parents, Randy and Arian Wynn, are instrumental in next week’s fundraiser.Randy Wynn has helped land some of the silent auction’s items up for bid, which include Charlotte Bobcats and Carolina Panthers tickets, a football autographed by NFL quarterback Tony Romo of the Dallas Cowboys, a basketball signed by the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs, baseballs autographed by several Atlanta Braves players, and grounds passes for the Wells Fargo Championship golf tournament.After the alumni home-run derby Friday, South Meck’s junior varsity and varsity teams will play fundraising games against Marvin Ridge on Saturday.Blake is scheduled to throw out the first pitch.
Friday, Feb. 22, 2013
Fundraiser’s goal is $4,000 for Miracle League
South Mecklenburg High School senior pitcher Austin Wynn, right, is a volunteer with the YMCA Miracle League at the University City YMCA. One of the players he helps is Blake Rice, son of South Meck teacher Matt Rice. COURTESY OF MATT RICE
Joe Habina is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Joe? Email him at email@example.com.
The Charlotte Observer welcomes your comments on news of the day. The more voices engaged in conversation, the better for us all, but do keep it civil. Please refrain from profanity, obscenity, spam, name-calling or attacking others for their views.
Have a news tip? You can send it to a local news editor; email firstname.lastname@example.org to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Charlotte Observer.Read moreRead less