Several years ago I was talking to a friend of mine who has four children, one of whom has Down Syndrome. Her daughter, Georgia, has fairly severe symptoms. In addition to having extremely low muscle tone, she also has difficulty with hearing, speech and vision. Georgia’s mother once told me that, because of their differences, she frequently found herself struggling to find things that all four of her children could do together. Georgia goes to a different school than her siblings, she cannot always follow the board games they play and when her brothers and sisters play team sports, Georgia is relegated to the sidelines.
Being part of a team at some point in our lives is something that we all too easily take for granted. Most of us know what it’s like to run the bases in a little league game or swim on a summer team. According to the United States Census Bureau, there are 2.8 million school-aged children with disabilities in this country. Like Georgia, most of those children are sitting on the sidelines watching other children play.
Every child deserves the chance to play
The mission of the Miracle League is “to promote the health and well-being of children with disabilities, provide opportunities for able-bodied children to learn about and interact with children with disabilities and develop community awareness and support for the child athlete with disabilities through organized sports leagues.”
Founded as a joint effort between the Audubon Nature Institute and Children’s Hospital, the program has achieved enormous success in its basketball, soccer and baseball teams. Since the day of its first game in 2009, the Miracle League of Greater New Orleans has built its roster of athletes to include more than 200 players. Though initially a program for children and teenagers, the age range has now expanded beyond the age of 21. The league has also garnered significant support from the community, including hundreds of volunteer player-buddies who are paired, one-on-one, to assist each athlete during the games.
A field of dreams
If you’ve never seen a Miracle League game in action, take a little time to stop by Miracle Field. As part of the multi-million dollar athletic complex on the levee behind the Audubon Zoo, Miracle Field is right there in the mix. However, because it was designed for the Miracle League, it isn’t your typical field. With a specially cushioned and synthetically surfaced playing field, it’s safe and easily maneuverable for individuals who use walking aids or wheelchairs.
There is definitely something miraculous about the Miracle League and the many ways it makes a difference in the lives of its players. For a child who never imagined playing on a team, it might feel miraculous to put on a uniform for the first time. For another child it might feel miraculous to kick a ball for the first time. And for a girl like Georgia, who has spent many hours sitting on the sidelines of other games, it might just feel miraculous that, because of the Miracle League, it’s finally her turn at bat.
For more information about the Miracle League, visit GNOMiracleLeague.org.
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110 Veterans Blvd., Suite 123, Metairie, LA 70005 or email Morgan@MyNewOrleans.com with the subject line “Making A Difference”