The inspiring story behind this special program
Posted in , Sep 1, 2007
Diane Alford goes to a lot of little league games near her hometown of Smyrna, Georgia. But she doesn't care who wins or loses. She doesn't have a favorite team and she doesn't argue with the ump.
All that really matters to her is that the players have fun, stay happy, and above all, that they feel just like any other kid.
The kids Diane cheers for are members of the Miracle League, which is made up entirely of young players with physical or mental disabilities. "These are kids who used to sit behind a fence, watching other kids play ball," she says. "Now they get to be on the other side of that fence."
They also get to play in a safe, noncompetitive environment. Specially made rubber fields with painted-on baselines allow kids with wheelchairs and crutches to run the bases more easily. In the two-inning games, every kid bats, everyone gets on bases, and both teams win.
"The goal is to make it fun," says Diane. "That's all these kids ask for."
The league began in 1997, when local youth baseball coach Eddie Bagwell invited a boy in a wheelchair to join his team. Moved by the idea, Diane, along with her brother, Dean, raised funds and rallied support for a special league.
In 2000, the Atlanta Miracle League had its first game. Today, there are 200 Miracle Leagues in cities all over the country, giving more than 125,000 disabled children a chance to play ball.
As executive director, Diane oversees the growth of each team, from answering that first phone call from an interested parent to attending opening day. "It's amazing for the parents to watch their kids accomplish things they never dreamed possible," says Diane. Her goal is to see 500 teams established nationwide.
Miracle League has also helped bridge the gap between its members and kids who don't face the same challenges. Last year, a group of students from a Smyrna high school each took a Miracle League player to the school's prom.
"Other than small differences, the kids are the same," says Diane. "They like the same music, the same movies, and now they play the same sports." And, team by team, they're achieving the same dreams.