It’s a perfect spring day in April. You feel the warmth of the sun on your skin, but a slight breeze counters it. You hear the the crack of the bat, the crowd roaring and cheering on their team, and umpires yelling “Strrrrrike!” The scent of popcorn and corn dogs fills the air, and you realize it’s baseball season. Baseball is one of America’s favorite sports, but for many children with disabilities it can be hard to find a spot on a team.
That is where the Over the Mountain Miracle League comes in. The Over the Mountain Miracle League is a baseball league for children and adults. Players are ages five and up and have physical and mental disabilities. They play a short four to six-game season in both the fall and the spring.
A Miracle League game is like an average baseball game in many ways. Players get to bat, catch, and run the bases. They also get cheered on by the fans and wear team uniforms. But there are differences as well. No one can wear cleats on these fields because they’re made from a rubbery material that is applicable for feet, wheelchairs, and walkers. The turf also helps prevent injuries. Most players have a buddy with them to help when needed. The players have a different volunteer buddy every game. Often, the buddies are from local organizations such as high school baseball and softball teams.
There are multiple Miracle Leagues throughout the country. The first one was opened in Conyers, Georgia, in April 2000. By 2002, Miracle Leagues had opened in states such as California, Illinois, and South Carolina. Now there are over 225 Miracle Leagues in the country, and a few in Canada and Puerto Rico as well. The leagues serve 100,000 kids and adults, and they have big plans to build programs all around the globe.
Kim Harwell, a co-founder of the Miracle League in Hoover, Alabama, was a special education teacher when she noticed there weren’t any baseball fields for kids with special needs. Coincidentally, her maid of honor’s child has cerebral palsy. So it got her thinking. She eventually researched and found the “How-to” booklet for starting a Miracle League. She and three friends began raising money. They asked businesses for donations, applied for grants, and went to the Hoover City Council for space to install the ballpark. “It changed my life … It’s my heart and love,” Harwell says.
Many players come back season after season. One of the players, Alyssa Moore, age 12, is one of them. “Her favorite thing is when they call her name,” Angela Moore says about her daughter, who has played for three seasons. But Mrs. Moore’s favorite part is that when Alyssa crosses home plate, she always stops to flex her muscles. Kids like Alyssa are impacted in many big ways. “They are all a part of the team,” Harwell said. They feel a sense of accomplishment they might not feel anywhere else.
The coaches and buddies are impacted in many ways as well. Harwell often serves as a buddy. She loves meeting with families who are involved with the Miracle League and thinking about things from their perspective. Her father is also a coach for the organization. Prior to the Miracle League, he had never been around people who needed extra help. “It really gets you out of yourself,” Harwell says.
At an Over the Mountain Miracle League game, all of the players happily cheer for one another. “It’s wonderful to see kids with disabilities not let anything hold them back,” Mrs. Moore says. “Just being there fills my cup,” Harwell says. The Over-the-Mountain Miracle League truly does make a wonderful sports experience for people who normally don’t get the chance.
“It’s just fun!” Alyssa says with a smile.