A blind girl now believes she can go to college because she can hit a ball. A boy confined to a wheelchair can play like his older brother. A dad fulfills his dream of coaching his son's team. This can-do attitude comes from adaptive baseball fields and leagues.
A 2004 HBO TV program about the nation's first adaptive field in Conyers, Ga., where the Miracle League was formed for children with disabilities, spread inspiration nationwide. The field has an asphalt base with a wheelchair- and walker-friendly rubberized surface. A volunteer “buddy” helps each player bat and run. No one strikes out, and every player navigates the bases. No one keeps score; play is all about hitting and fielding. Volunteers across the country have established fields modeled on this first Miracle League field in Georgia.
In communities in Colorado, Georgia, and Michigan, volunteers took the ball and ran, assuming financial risks in the belief the community would support their efforts. In Denver, nine individuals who saw the TV program contacted the Conyers volunteers for information and located one another through this connection; retired couple Roger and Lisa Koenigsberg took the lead. In Alpharetta, Ga., retired pilot John McLaughlin started a team. In Michigan, Stephen Peck, owner of a marketing company, raised funds and started a league.
If You Build It ...
Volunteers in Denver and Michigan worked toward building fields before organizing sports programs. The Koenisbergs approached Foothills Park & Recreation in Littleton, Colo. “We told them we didn't have money, but we had the land,” said Kevin Brown, Foothills supervisor of athletics. The agency agreed to maintain the field with funds from field rentals and the group's fundraising, and to administer the program. In its opening two weekends in October, approximately 30 youngsters participated. Brown anticipates at least 20 more families this spring.
Denver organizers worked with the construction community, saving a third of the construction cost. Saunders Construction Inc. of Denver donated project management; Herndon, Va.-based Lafarge North America offered asphalt and technical assistance. Thirteen other contractors donated a portion of their costs.
Construction of the Colorado field brought some unique challenges. The 2% slope usually used for parking lot drainage would have interfered with the players' movement and line of sight. Instead, a 1% slope was paved in four sections to carry water to the perimeter drains.
Businesses Offer Assistance
The community of Southfield, Mich., donated land valued at $1 million. Peck asked the building community to donate what they could and to defer payment up to a year. “We started out with $35,000 seed money and a hole in the ground after demolishing the existing ball field, so as a man of my word, I did what it took to raise $500,000 in six months,” said Peck.
As Peck presented to community groups, the media responded with approximately 40 published and broadcast pieces about the Miracle League in Michigan. Local Atlanta-area magazine Points North wrote an article about the league, which moved Sid Kirschner, CEO of Northside Hospital, to donate $215,000 for the surfacing.
Patrick Shanks, manager of the Howell, Mich., Wal-Mart spread the word to stores statewide and connected Peck with the Wal-Mart Foundation. The local Pepsi bottling group designed an advertising campaign for 96 Wal-Mart and Sam's Club stores across the state, with displays featuring Miracle League packaging with tear-off sheets encouraging public participation.
“Wal-Mart didn't ask for anything in return, but to honor them we named our project Wal-Mart Field,” said Peck.