Miracle League to build facility in Zanesville
Published: March 28, 2007 | 5889th good news item since 2003
New York Yankees legend Lou Gehrig once said, “There is no room in baseball for discrimination. It is our national pastime and a game for all.”
That quote defines the mission of the Miracle League organization.
The league originated in Conyers, Ga. in 1997 with the idea to give physically disabled children an opportunity to play baseball. Though the initial league took three years before the first teams took the field, the organization has grown into approximately 145 leagues nationwide.
Fred Grant, thanks to his son, brought the idea to Zanesville. Grant heard about the league from his son who lives in Georgia and as a member of the Rotary Club presented the idea during the monthly Civic Club Coalition meeting. After Grant’s presentation, the community representatives from various clubs like Kiwanis, Lions Club, and others decided the project was worth undertaking.
“When we first saw the project, we knew we needed to present it,” Grant said. “Without (the other groups’) support, we probably wouldn’t have gone ahead with it.”
The Muskingum Valley area is an ideal location. According to the U.S. Census, over 9,000 handicapped youths from ages five to 19 live in southeast Ohio which includes Muskingum, Coshocton, and Perry counties. Though the number cannot be broken down to the exact handicaps, project chairman Caribeth Legats stated who is eligible to play.
“Any child excluded from playing in any regular baseball league will be able to play in the Miracle League,” she said.
Currently, the Miracle League of Muskingum Valley Ohio is still in the beginning stages. The group has picked out a location to build the complex behind MR/DD Starlight facilities and the County Home on Newark Road. The property has been dedicated but are waiting for the writing of the lease.
Along with getting the land, the group is looking to raise funds to cover the $200,000 cost by May. Part of the money will come from an Ohio Department of Natural Resources grant since the field will consist of recycled rubber while the rest will be raised from private donations that are tax deductible since the group is classified as an incorporated and non-profit organization.
As the organization wades through the legal and fundraising aspects, they are reaching out to the community. Legats has presented the idea to several groups including a local parents support group. The overwhelming reaction was one of excitement including one mother who can finally give an answer to her son’s question.
“I had one mother who couldn’t believe we were doing this. She told me her child always asked when he could play ball every time they passed Y-City, and she always answered, ‘someday,’ ” Legats said. “When she heard about the league, she couldn’t wait to go home and tell her son he could play.”
The league hopes to break ground this spring and hopes to follow in the footsteps of the first Ohio-based league in Dublin. The Dublin League began two years ago and has watched participation double from 100 in year one to over 200 last season. With the numbers increasing, it has developed into a two-level league based on each kid’s ability. Of course, Zanesville will take it one step at a time but hopes it can repeat Dublin’s success.
“Our first year is to have a similar program and see each kid’s ability,” Legats said. “We hope to be able to have two levels based on ability, but each year, we will adjust to our players’ abilities.”
While large numbers is one objective, the main purpose is to build the children’s confidence. The field is a smooth, rubberized surface with painted bases and baselines so no obstacles will obstruct runners or fielders. The teams play on a smaller field with baselines about 50 feet, and the outfield fence no further away than 125 feet from home plate so players can hit the ball over the fence. The best part is each kid gets to hit and score every inning so everyone wins.
“The goal is to build self-esteem for these kids,” Grant said. “When someone has a loss of limb or some faculty, one of the chief things is to bring that confidence back.”
Another aspect is building relationships on and off the field. Each player is paired with a able-bodied volunteer “buddy” for the entire season who helps them hit, run, and field. The league is working with local organizations for buddies but does not allow parents because the organization wants to give parents the chance to sit back and watch their children have fun.
“From everyone that has participated as buddies, they all say the bond between buddy and child is unbelievable,” Legats talked about her conversations with several buddies in the Dublin league. “We just hope we can help the kids develop friendships with someone special.”