In 1998, a Rockdale County, Georgia, youth baseball coach invited Michael, a 7-year-old in a wheelchair, to play on his team.
Michael caught the coach’s attention because the youngster attended every game and practice, cheering on the play of his 5-year-old brother.
The next year, other children with disabilities were invited to dress in uniforms, make plays on the field and round the bases just like their peers. The Rockdale league began with 35 players on four teams and grew to more than 60 players.
There were no programs to copy. It was decided every player bats once each inning, all players are safe on the bases and every player scores a run before the inning ends. The last one up gets a home run. To help the athletes, each player is paired with a “buddy”—an able-bodied peer to provide an assist.
But organizers had bigger dreams. With 75,000-plus children in metro Atlanta with disabilities—most unable to participate in team sports—advocates had visions of creating a unique baseball complex that would remove the safety hazards of traditional grass fields for players in wheelchairs and walkers.
Believing every child deserves a chance to play baseball, The Miracle League was formed as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, committed to raising funds to build a complex that meets the unique needs of The Miracle League players and providing outreach to extend The Miracle League model across the country.
On December 31, 1999, a first-of-its-kind field broke ground in Conyers, Georgia, for The Miracle League. A cushioned rubberized surface helps prevent injuries. The facility includes wheelchair-accessible dugouts, a completely flat surface to eliminate barriers to those in wheelchairs or visually impaired players, accessible restrooms, a concession stand and a picnic pavilion.
On opening day 2000, Miracle League rosters had grown to more than 120 players. By spring 2002, more than 270 players filled Miracle League rosters.
Today, more than 330 Miracle League organizations across the United States, Puerto Rico, Canada and Mexico serve more than 450,000 children and adults with disabilities.
“There is something about playing the game that lights up a person’s eyes,” says Diane Alford, executive director of The Miracle League. “For children and adults facing serious physical and mental disabilities, that opportunity can be difficult to achieve. Baseball diamonds weren’t designed with wheelchairs and crutches in mind. The Miracle League removes the barriers that keep people with mental and physical disabilities off the baseball field and lets them experience the joy of America’s favorite pastime.
“But it’s more than playing a game. The Miracle League is about making new friends, building self-esteem and being treated just like other athletes. Our players may not be able to run the bases or hit the ball as well as some of their peers, but they have an equal amount of love and determination to play baseball. We want to help them achieve that dream.
“We cannot change or cure the medical issues life has dealt children with disabilities. What we can do is provide them with an opportunity to experience the joy and benefits that come from playing our national pastime: baseball.”