Miracle League could benefit 500+

Published 12:05 am Thursday, February 2, 2012

A coach helps a Miracle League participant in the Troy league, which opened in 2011. | Thomas Graning/ The Troy Messenger


As Miracle League baseball catches on across the United States, Andalusia has a commitment from former Alabama coach Gene Stallings to help raise money for a program here.

Dwight Mikel, who recently retired from the City of Andalusia after 35 years in the parks and recreation department, told Rotarians this week that this project is like a mulligan for him.

“This is something we should have gotten done a long time ago,” he said. “If you think about it in terms of golf, this is like a redo for me.”

Miracle League removes the barriers that keep children with mental and physical disabilities off the baseball field and lets them experience America’s favorite pastime. Children play on custom-designed, rubberized turf fields that accommodate wheelchairs and other assertive devices. The league uses a “buddy” system, pairing each player with an able-bodied peer.

“We have located more than 550 children in Covington County who could benefit from this type of program,” Mikel said.

Generally, only 20 percent of special needs children have a mobility problem, he said.

Mikel said the first field was built in Conyers, Ga., in 2000, and there are now more than 250 in the United States, including nine in Alabama. The closest ones are in Troy and Dothan.

Mikel and Mayor Earl Johnson said the field, which is expected to cost $300,000, will be built in the area locals will think of it as “the T-ball field.” In the current renovation of Johnson Park, the field will be completed because it is needed this year. After the season, it will be adapted as a Miracle League field, and can be used for both the new league and for able-bodied players.

Mikel said fundraising efforts will be needed to make the field a reality.

“As late as (Tuesday) morning, I talked with Gene Stallings,” Mikel said. “He is willing to come to Andalusia and be a part of activities to raise money for this.”

Stallings, who coached the University of Alabama to a national championship in football, was the father of a special needs child, John Mark, about whom he authored the book, “Another Season.” Stallings has loaned his name to many charities in his son’s memory.

Johnny Franklin, national project director for The Miracle League, also was present at the Rotary meeting. He said the league is different in every community.

“It is an ever-changing, always in motion kind of thing because the needs change,” he said.

He said one never hears parents complain at Miracle League games, and that the relationships between participants and their buddies build are very special.

“It’s not just about baseball, but about so many other things,” he said. “It’s about kids getting to do things they were told they could never do. It’s about parents seeing their kids do things they thought they could never do.”