UNION — As the sponsor of The Union Daily Times Community Directory, The Miracle League of Union County was presented with a $500 civic partner share on Monday afternoon.
The Miracle League website offers a concise description of the impact created by Miracle League baseball games:
“If I were to tell you about an organized youth baseball league, you might call it ordinary.
If I were to tell you the athletes are children and adults with special needs, you might call it touching.
If you were to see them play, you would call it a Miracle.”
In 1998, The Miracle League began with 35 players in Rockdale County, Ga. Since there were no other programs allowing children and adults with special needs to participate in America’s favorite pastime, there was no set of rules to copy. Therefore, 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 volunteers serve as “buddies” to assist the players.
• Each team and each player wins every game.
In 2000, the first Miracle League field was constructed, custom-designed with a cushioned rubberized surface to prevent injuries, wheelchair accessible dugouts and a completely flat surface to eliminate any barriers to wheelchair-bound or visually impaired players.
There are currently more than 250 Miracle League organizations across the country including Puerto Rico, as well as organizations in Canada and Australia. There are more than 200,000 children and adults with special needs who participate.
Efforts to bring Miracle League games and a Miracle League field to Union County began in 2011, when a number of local parents had children involved in Carolina Miracle League activities in Boiling Springs. Efforts were spearheaded by Amy Austin whose son, Chandler, is a Miracle League player, and The Miracle League of Union County was created.
“Miracle League removes the barriers that keep children and adults with mental and physical disabilities off the baseball field and allows them to experience America’s favorite pastime,” Austin said.
In 2012, Austin approached the Union County Council for help.
“We believe we live in a community without barriers and that is why we are proposing that we be allowed to have use of the first field on the right at Timken Sports Complex,” she said. “Why should we have to wait any longer for our child or adult with disabilities to be able to play baseball? We shouldn’t have to drive an hour to enjoy things we could enjoy right here at home.”
County council voted unanimously to allow the league to use a field at the Timken Sports Complex.
County Supervisor Tommy Sinclair said Field No. 2 will meet the league’s needs while also helping fulfill the complex’s mission of bringing revenue into the county.
Miracle League of Union County is projected to affect an eight-county region, bringing special needs children and parents from surrounding counties to Union. Miracle League of Union County is also planning to sponsor Wounded Warrior activities on the field.
Before the field can be used for Miracle League games, however, it has to be modified for the special needs athletes who will play on it. The modifications involve the installation of a completely flat, low-impact surface that will support any mobility aid including wheelchairs and walkers — at a cost of approximately $255,000.
With a a $250,000-plus goal, Miracle League of Union County supporters launched major fund raising efforts.
The City of Union donated $50,000 from funds generated through the city’s Hospitality and Accommodations Tax, and Union County Parks and Recreation Department secured a $47,000 grant, 20 percent of which must be matched by Union County.
Then, the Timken Family Foundation of Canton, Ohio, stepped up to the plate. The foundation awarded the Miracle League of Union County a $25,000 grant to help with field modification. In awarding the grant, the foundation also issued a challenge to the people of Union County to raise another $60,000 for the league by Aug. 13, 2013. If the challenge amount is raised by that time, the foundation would match it with an additional $60,000.
On July 27, 2013, The Miracle League of Union County hosted “Miracle Mania” — a field dedication and fund-raising event — at Timken Sports Complex that was a celebration of the hard work and dedication of community members who pitched in to raise approximately $2.5 million for the efforts to transform the field.
Those who made contributions will have their names featured on a banner in the outfield when the Miracle League of Union County field is complete.
The Miracle League of Union County also acquired its mascot, “Homer,” which was made possible by a donation from Union’s Junior Charity League.
Austin said she is thankful for everyone who has contributed through donations and fundraisers.
“It has definitely taken a community effort, and I’m just thankful we have such a giving community,” Austin said.
For more information, visit www.themiracleleagueofunioncounty.org or look for “The Miracle League of Union County” on Facebook.
Derik Vanderford can be reached at 864-427-1234.