The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

Sports

February 18, 2013

Miracle League meets needs of disabled athletes



TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) — The Miracle League of Tuscaloosa, which uses a specially designed field, is a prime example of how sports can be tailored to the needs of disabled athletes.

Joanna McKinley, treasurer of the organization, said the baseball field, which is at Sokol Park North, is about the size of a Little League facility. It's covered with a soft, synthetic surface that is wheelchair-accessible.

"All of our players have some kind of challenge," McKinley said. "We have people playing from 2 years old to about 37. There are no limits to ability or age. We make accommodations so that anybody can play."

McKinley said the Miracle League has about 100 participants in the spring and about 75 in the fall season.

The Miracle League is a national nonprofit organization whose mission is to provide children with disabilities the chance to play baseball. The Tuscaloosa chapter formed in 2007.

McKinley said she has read about the directive from the U.S. Department of Education that directs schools to provide sports opportunities for people with disabilities.

"We do have many kids who go to the schools in the area," McKinley said. "Persons with disabilities, especially children, don't get to have a regular childhood. They have so much stuff to deal with it matures them beyond their years. Just getting out to play baseball makes them feel like a child. Having the opportunity to be carefree, to be a child and get out and play, I think that enriches their lives. I think it's really important."

McKinley said her son volunteers as a "buddy" for the Miracle League players.

"Another asset of our program is that not only do they get to play a sport, but they also get to interact with other kids who have disabilities and others who don't have disabilities," McKinley said. "There's a lot of mainstreaming going on. The buddies get to learn that people with disabilities are just like me. A lot of the kids can't wait to see each other. The buddies want to come back because they made a friend."

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