The Miracle League is planning a new accessible field in East Lyme.
Outdoor play has tremendous benefits to the body and soul. But children and adults coping with serious physical and mental disabilities have fewer opportunities to enjoy outdoor recreation – particularly organized sports. Baseball diamonds weren’t designed with wheelchairs and other assistive devices in mind.
The Miracle League removes the barriers that keep these players off the baseball field so that they can experience America’s favorite pastime. Since the mobility challenges arise from the natural grass fields used in conventional leagues, Miracle League teams play on a custom-designed, rubberized turf field that accommodates wheelchairs and other equipment while helping to prevent injuries. The Miracle League Field is a space where children of all abilities can participate in sports of all kinds in a welcoming, non-competitive atmosphere.
But it’s more than playing a game. The Miracle League is about making new friends and sportsmanship. The league uses a “buddy” system – pairing each player with an able-bodied peer. The bonds that these teams form are very meaningful, organizers say.
The first Miracle League field opened in Conyers, Georgia in April 2000. Word spread and by 2002, fields opened in South Carolina, Alabama, West Virginia, Illinois, and California. Presently there are over 300 Miracle League Organizations across the country including Puerto Rico, Canada and Australia, serving over 200,000 children and young adults with disabilities.
In Southeastern Connecticut and Western Rhode Island alone, there are thousands of children participating in special education programs. Many of these children have significant physical or cognitive challenges that make it difficult for them to participate in team sports primarily because of the numerous barriers associated with traditional sports fields.
The mission of The Miracle League of Southeastern Connecticut is to remove those barriers and welcome children with special needs and their families to experience the joy and triumph of team sports in its purest form. The laughter, camaraderie and skill development that go with organized sports is something every parent and child should have the chance to experience.
To accomplish this, a specially designed, fully accessible field must be built. With the support of their umbrella organization, Miracle League of Connecticut, individuals and local businesses are in the process of raising the necessary funds to convert our conceptual design into the second Miracle League Field in Connecticut. The field will be located behind the Flanders Elementary School in East Lyme and will include an accessible playground, restrooms and storage facility. This location is perfectly situated to provide easy access from all points north, east and west of East Lyme as it is easily accessed from I-95 and I-395. Currently, the only other Miracle League Field in the state is located in West Hartford. Many families travel over an hour so their children have the opportunity to play with new friends and experience the joy of being part of a team.
The surface of the field will be made using special exterior grade materials, which shall provide a flat, cushioned, rubberized surface that will be accessible to wheelchairs, walkers and other types of mobility apparatus. The Miracle League Field has surface painted base paths, bases, batter’s box, pitcher’s mound and home plate. A unique feature of this new field is that it will be designed to incorporate lacrosse and soccer in addition to baseball. Families will have the opportunity to watch and cheer for loved ones, connect with new families and experience a community setting that values the inclusion of every child. The Miracle League Field complex will create an environment where all athletes and siblings can play side by side regardless of their abilities in a competitive-free atmosphere
An integral part of the Miracle League experience is the “Buddy” system. Buddies are fellow schoolmates, teenagers, parents, college students or adults, who volunteer their time and assist the Miracle League athletes in hitting the ball, rounding the bases and learning the game.
Conceptual design for the $1.3M of the Miracle League Complex provides for the overall project to be broken into three phases: Phase 1 – Miracle League Field, Phase 2 – Accessible Playground and Phase 3 – Fully Accessible Restrooms and Storage.
Fundraising is currently underway to raise the $550,000 necessary to complete construction of Phase 1. “Since November, we have raised approximately $180,000 through various fundraisers and the generosity of local business, community organizations and kind-hearted individuals,” said Julie Wilson, vice president of the Miracle League of SECT Board of Directors.
The project has received support from Miracle League of Connecticut, Geico, Boats Inc., Niantic Main Street, Niantic Rotary Club, Chelsea Groton Bank, Il Pomodoro Restaurant, Family First Life, Carlin Construction Company, Coldwell Banker, Guinness, Niantic Lions, Shoreline Leos, and Arthur Murray Dance Studio – Niantic.
“Many local businesses have also made in-kind donations, Wilson said. “In addition, former UConn men’s basketball Coach Kevin Ollie has committed $50,000 from ‘Kevin’s Kourts’ to build an accessible basketball court on the same site. In order to complete the first phase of the project we will need to raise approximately another $370,000,” Wilson said.
Fundraising plans call for a gala on Nov. 16 with baseball celebrities Andrew Bailey, Pete Walker and Bobby Valentine serving on the planning committee.
On March 16, a Prom Extravaganza will be held at East Lyme High School, 30 Chesterfield Road, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. The committee is collecting “almost new” and new prom, bridesmaid and ball gowns. Every dress collected (regardless of the original cost) will be sold for $25. The event will include a vendor showcase of prom-related products and services, as well as raffle prizes.
For more information on any of the upcoming events or how you can help, visit mlsect.org or email Julie Wilson at firstname.lastname@example.org or Dave Putnam, Executive Director of the Miracle League of Southeastern Connecticut at email@example.com.