City pitches Miracle League field to county

Published 12:03 am Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Children in wheelchairs will have the opportunity to safely play ball once the Miracle Field is created in Andalusia. | Thomas Graning/The (Troy) Messenger


On Monday, Andalusia Mayor Earl Johnson threw out the first official pitch in the ongoing Miracle League project – the funding pitch, that is.

Johnson made the request to the Covington County Commission, asking for a five-year $50,000 commitment to help construct a Miracle League baseball field and inclusive playground at Johnson Park.

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 and use a “buddy” system, pairing each player with an able-bodied peers.

Johnson said the city is combining the construction of the field with the ongoing renovation project at Johnson Park to save money; however, funding is needed to complete the project.

“This project is something that should have been addressed a long time ago, but right now, the situation is right,” Johnson said. “The field and the playground go together hand-in-hand, and the cost is somewhere around $300,000.

“What we’re asking for is a five-year commitment with an annual cost of $10,000,” he said. “We’re going to ask Opp, Florala and Red Level for a commitment, as well. The city is going to put some money as well, and provide the maintenance and operation costs.

“The goal is to raise about a third of the cost through public means and the rest through private and business donations,” he said.

“It would mean so much to the young people who don’t have the opportunity to play on the field like their friends or their brother or sister,” he said. “Not to mention their family.”

The project, which is being headed by the city’s former parks and recreation director Dwight Mikel, hopes to provide a playing field for the estimated 500 special needs children in the county.

“This is not a Miracle League for the children of Andalusia,” he said. “It’s for all children in this county and beyond.”

Mikel said he became motivated about the project after the birth of his premature grandchild. He said major health concerns about his overall development prompted him to consider the needs of those with disabilities from an athletic standpoint.

“For years, ever since the Americans with Disabilities came into effect, we’ve been building buildings where the doors and the gates at the parks were wide enough for a wheelchair,” he said. “But we’ve never done anything to entice them to use the facility. That’s not OK.”

He said the field and playground will be located at “the heart” of the Johnson Park complex to promote inclusion.

“We believe this is an opportunity that can’t be passed up,” Mikel said.

And while no formal motion to enter into the contract was presented, commissioners agreed it was a project worth pursuing and directed County Administrator Brenda Petty to “look at the finances and make (it) work,” said Commissioner Bragg Carter.

“Every child deserves a chance,” Carter said. “Every child deserves the opportunity to play ball. If we don’t do that, to see they have that opportunity, then we’re coming up short.”