By Daniel J. Vance
Diane Alford, executive director of the Miracle League, was so excited about her upcoming appearance on NBC's Today Show she could hardly talk to me recently over the telephone. If you haven't heard, the Miracle League is a social movement making waves all over America and millions are catching the vision. And Alford can hardly keep up with all the media appearances.
"The Miracle League was started by Dean Alford," Diane said of her brother, a former Georgia state representative from Conyers, 25 miles east of Atlanta. "He was touched by the desire of children with mental and physical disabilities wanting to play baseball. Being president of his Rotary Club, he challenged them in 1999 to build a special baseball field. Now children with walkers, wheelchairs, crutches and even those that walk without assistance can play easier. We have 250 children involved in Conyers."
Children with disabilities can't play baseball on conventional fields. Walkers, wheelchairs and crutches don't move well over grass, dirt and elevated bases. So Dean Alford helped construct a rubberized turf playing field. Today, the all-volunteer Miracle League has fourteen rubberized turf fields across the nation and another 62 under construction.
Said Diane, "Eventually we are going to have 500 fields. Communities hearing of the Miracle League are wondering why they hadn't thought of this before. This country has 5.2 million children with disabilities; that's almost twice the number of people living in all Chicago. Somewhere in our lives is a child with a disability, whether a neighbor, sibling, cousin or second cousin."
The Miracle League is a natural extension of the Americans with Disabilities Act because it's making baseball fields accessible. The field in Conyers has wheelchair accessible dugouts, a completely flat surface for the visually impaired, accessible restrooms, and a concession stand.
The League also has special rules: 1) all base runners are safe 2) every player scores a run before the inning ends 3) community volunteers serve as "buddies" to assist players 4) each team and player wins every game.
"These kids are just like any other kids," said Diane. "They want to have fun, be loved and be part of something. The Miracle League helps them do that."
About a dozen professional baseball teams offer financial support. The Miracle League has kits available to help you start a program and build a playing field in your area.