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Miracle League History

In 1997 Rockdale Youth Baseball Association’s coach, Eddie Bagwell, invited the first disabled child to play baseball on his team; watching this 7 year old in his wheel chair attending every game and practice while cheering on his 5 year old brother play American’s favorite pastime.

In 1998, the Rockdale Youth Baseball Association (RYBA) formed the Miracle League to further its mission of providing opportunities for all children to play baseball regardless of their ability. Disabled children in our community had expressed the desire to dress in uniforms, make plays in the field, and round the bases just like their healthy peers. The league began with 35 players on four teams.

There were no programs for the Miracle League to copy. It was decided that:

  Every player bats once each inning
  All base runners are safe
  Every player scores a run before the inning is over (last one up gets a home run)
  Community children and volunteers serve as “buddies” to assist the players
  Each team and each player wins every game

The main concern was that the Miracle League teams played on the same grass fields as the RYBA teams, presenting potential safety hazards for players in wheelchairs or walkers.

It is spring, 1999 season, the Miracle League gained support and became a source of pride for all involved as participation grew to over 80 players. During that season the magnitude of the need for such a program was recognized. It was learned that there are over 79,000 children in Metro Atlanta who are disabled to a degree that keeps them for participating in team sports, that is when the dream of building a unique baseball complex for these special children was conceived.

The Rotary Clubs of Rockdale County and Conyers stepped forward to form the Rotary Miracle League Fund, Inc. a separate 105 (c) 3 organization. The new organization had two objectives: (1) raise the funds necessary to build a special complex with facilities that meet the unique needs of the Miracle League players, and (2) assist in the outreach efforts for the Miracle League. Mr. John Schuerholz, the General Manager of the Atlanta Braves, agreed to serve as the Honorary Chairman and lent his resources to promote the Miracle League throughout the Metropolitan Atlanta area.

With the help of community volunteers and companies, the design and construction of the first Miracle League complex was underway. The complex would include a custom-designed field with a cushioned synthetic turf to help prevent injuries, wheelchair accessible dugouts, and a completely flat surface to eliminate any barriers to wheelchair bound of visually impaired players. The design also included three grass fields, which could be converted to the synthetic turf as the league grew. In addition, accessible restrooms, a concession stand, and picnic pavilion were included in the design. The Miracle League complex was completed in April 2000.

On opening day, the Miracle League rosters had grown to over 100 players. The players raced around the bases and chatted with their teammates in the dugouts as they celebrated. Nicholas Slade, a player who had been in a coma just a week before, threw out the first ball.

The players’ enthusiasm has continued to grow. By the spring of 2001 over 250 players filled the Miracle League rosters. The parents tell stories of their children insisting on playing despite bouts with kidney stones, broken bones, and recent hospitalizations. The thrill of playing, the cheers from the stands, and the friendships they develop make the Miracle League Field an oasis away from their everyday battles.

It that first season, there were no programs to copy. It was decided that each player would bat once each inning all players would be safe and score a run before the inning was over. Each team and each player always wins. Our umpire describes this as the only league where no one ever gets mad at him or her.

“Buddies” assist most Miracle League players. These buddies are mainstream children who play baseball on RYBA teams. As a result, the parents, children and volunteers are all brought together – special needs and mainstream alike in a program that serves them all through service to children with special needs. The program is open to children from any community and until December 1, 2001 was one of a kind.

The Miracle League Association has received local and national media attention. The league has been chronicled in the local newspaper, televised both locally on NBC, ABC Connecting with Kids, and FOX Atlanta affiliates and nationally on CNN, MSNBC and Fox Sports. In July 2001, the league was profiled on a segment of HBO’s Real Sports. Articles profiling the league appeared in People, Family Circle and Rotary International magazines. In January 2002, two men from the Miracle League were awarded the Martin Luther King Humanitarian Award and on January 24th PAX TV’s “It’s A Miracle” told the story of Conyers Miracle League Player, Lauren Gunder.

In February of 2002, the Miracle League Players were featured in Rotary Internationals’ PSA, chosen out of 500 applicants. In the winter of 2002, the Miracle League again was profiled in the Georgia Tech Alumni Magazine. In January of 2002 the League won the 11ALIVETV, Community Service Award and in June of 2002 took the Jefferson Award, awarded by The American Institute for Public Services, founded by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and Senator Robert Taft, Jr. We believe the publicity from these media events, coupled with positive word of mouth, has raises awareness among the families of special needs children and allows the Miracle League Association to take the program across the country.

The Miracle League Association, as of September 1, 2002, has over 35 fields under construction and another 48 scheduled ground breaking across the country by Spring of 2003; with the goal of 100 plus fields by year-end 2003 and 500 plus Miracle League fields by year end 2005, including several international locations; along with the help of corporate sponsors, this program will be offered to every city in the country so tens of thousands of special needs children across the globe will have the same opportunity. After all . . .


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