In 1998 Rockdale Youth Baseball Association’s coach Eddie Bagwell invited the first child with a disability to play baseball on his team; Michael a 7 year old child in a wheel chair attended every game and practice, while cheering on his 5 year old brother play America’s favorite pass-time. And in 1999, other children with disabilities were invited to play baseball on a typical baseball field within the baseball complex of the Rockdale Youth Baseball Association (RYBA). The players had expressed the desire to dress in uniforms, make plays in the field, and round the bases just like their main stream peers. The league began with 35 players on four teams that first year.
There were no programs to copy. It was decided that:
- Every player bats once each inning
- All players are safe on the bases
- 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 the playing surface, presenting potential safety hazards for players in wheelchairs or walkers.
By the spring 1999 season, the league gained support and became a source of pride for all involved as participation grew to over 50 players. During that season, the magnitude of the need for such a program was recognized. It was learned that there are over 75,000 plus children in Metro Atlanta with disabilities, most not being able to participate in team sports. That is when the dream of building a unique baseball complex for these special children was conceived. The Miracle League was formed and became a reality that all children should have the chance to play baseball.
Under the leadership of Dean Alford, the Rotary Clubs of Rockdale County and Conyers stepped forward to form the Rotary Miracle League Fund, Inc., a 501 (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 Miracle Leagues across the country.
With the help of community volunteers and corporations, the design and construction of the first Miracle League complex was underway. The complex would include a custom-designed field with a cushioned rubberized surface to help prevent injuries, wheelchair accessible dugouts, and a completely flat surface to eliminate any barriers to wheelchair-bound or visually impaired players. The design also included three grass fields, which could be converted to the synthetic rubber surface as the league grew. In addition, accessible restrooms, a concession stand, and picnic pavilion were included in the design
The first of its kind Miracle League Field broke ground on December 31, 1999 and The Miracle League complex was completed in April 2000. On opening day, the Miracle League rosters had grown to over 120 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 spring, 2002, over 270 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. Our umpire describes this as the only league where no one ever gets mad at him or her.
“Buddies” assist Miracle League player. These buddies are mainstream children who play baseball, youth church groups, boys and girls scouts to mention a few. As a result the parents, children and volunteers are all brought together – special needs and mainstream alike-in a program, which serves them all through service to children with special needs. The program is opened to children from any community and, until April 2002 was one of a kind.
The Miracle League has received local and national media attention. The league has been chronicled in the local newspaper, televised 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, Rotary International magazines, and Paula Deen. In January 2002 the Miracle League were awarded the Martin Luther King Humanitarian Award and on January 24th PAX TV’s “It A Miracle” told the story of Conyers Miracle League Player Lauren Gunder and in 2014 The Miracle League was visited by President George W. Bush.
February 2002 the Miracle League Players were featured in Rotary Internationals’ PSA chosen out of 500 applicants. Winter of 2002 the Miracle League again was profiled in the Georgia Tech Alumni Magazine. January of 2002 won the 11ALIVE TV Community Service Award and June of 2002 took the Jefferson Award, The American Institute for Public Services, founded by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and Senator Robert Taft, Jr. One of the greatest achievements was being inducted to The Baseball Hall of Fame in 2006. In 2002 The Miracle League was featured in People, Family Circle, Rotary International, TIME, Sports Illustrated, FOOD Network’s Paula Deen’s Magazine, Embracing Changes, to name a few. 2008 a Wine was created for Braves Player, Chipper Jones and The Miracle League was the beneficiary of its world wide sales. And recently received the National Consortium for Academics and Sports Award.
The publicity from these media events, coupled with positive word of mouth, raises awareness among the families of children with special needs and allows the Miracle League Association to take the program across the country.
Presently there are over 300 Miracle League Organizations across the country including Puerto Rico, Canada and our newest member in Australia. The Miracle League is proud to serve over 200,000 children and young adults with disabilities.