Miracle League field proposed for special needs baseball players in Indiana County
By Gina DelFavero
Published: Friday, July 12, 2013, 11:57 a.m.
Baseball is a favorite game for both kids and adults, but not everyone has the chance to play, sometimes because of physical limitations.
A new ball field proposed for Indiana County would change that. It was announced last week that a Miracle League field, built specifically for those with special needs, is planned for construction at the Indiana County YMCA on Ben Franklin Road, White Township.
At a July 2 press conference, a partnership for the project was announced between the Miracle League of Indiana County and Pirates Charities, the philanthropic arm of the Pittsburgh Pirates. In attendance were Bob Nutting, chairman of the Pittsburgh Pirates and Pirates Charities; Pirates President
Pirates Charities announced it will provide $150,000 toward the Indiana County field. That brought the funds raised to about $500,000. The average Miracle League field costs about $1 million.
The Miracle League field will look much like a regular baseball diamond, but it will be built on a smaller scale and will feature a rubberized surface free of any impediment to those with wheelchairs, crutches or walkers. The bases will be imbedded in the surface, and everything will be handicapped-accessible. The field will also have dugouts, an electronic scoreboard and bleachers for the fans, as well as other amenities.
The league will offer two seasons that will run in the spring, summer and fall months. Depending on their needs and age, players will be in one of three leagues — the Miracle League or the Youth Competitive League, for those 5-18 years of age, and the Adult League, for those over 18. The Miracle League is non-competitive, with no scores or statistics kept and each player getting a chance at bat, circling the bases and scoring a run in each of the game's two innings.
All of the leagues operate on a buddy system, with volunteers pairing up with each special needs player to provide a helping hand when needed.
Two people were instrumental in bringing the Miracle League field to Indiana County — Nancy Sherry-Helsel and Jerry Gillette. Sherry-Helsel's son, Indiana native Mike Sherry, president of the Miracle League of Southwestern PA, spearheaded the construction of the first Miracle League field in western Pennsylvania, in Cranberry Township. After the opening of that field, Sherry-Helsel said she new she wanted one for Indiana County.
Gillette, who grew up playing the game of baseball, said he knew he wanted to be involved when he first heard about the Miracle League and what it offered, giving those with special needs the ability to play.
A conversation last year with friends at the YMCA led to Sherry-Helsel connecting with Gillette. They began calling businesses and individual seeking donations to raise money. “And here we are today,” Sherry-Helsel said. “This is big task. It's not over by any means. This is just the first step for the future. We still need your support and contributions and your prayers.”
“There are miracles all around us,” said Mike Sherry, noting that a child with special needs can have a huge impact for others. He introduced his special needs daughter, Jordan, as a child who helped inspire the Miracle League fields in southwestern Pennsylvania.
Pirates Charities and the Miracle League of Southwestern PA first paired up in 2007 for the construction of the Cranberry Township field, and six years later, Sherry has come full circle to help bring a field to his hometown of Indiana.
The focus of Pirates Charities is to strengthen communities by supporting organizations that provide programs that have a meaningful impact on the lives of children and lives, Pirates Chairman Bob Nutting said in his address to the crowd.
“We reach out and touch nearly 3,000 organizations in the greater Pittsburgh area every year with tickets and outreach, but there is no program that I believe has a deeper and more meaningful impact than the Miracle League fields that we've been involved with,” Nutting said.
“We can't wait to see the kids take this field.”
Eric Neal, executive director of the Indiana County YMCA, expressed his appreciation at being able to bring a field to the area that will serve the needs of a very special group of people.
The Indiana County Miracle League field will be open to other counties as well.
Gillette noted that a Walk of Fame will be built as part of the field, with bricks purchased in memory or in honor of loved ones.
The ceremony was attended by several special needs children and adults who will benefit from the Miracle League field. Teresa Medvetz, 27, of Homer City, who is involved in swimming programs at the Indiana County YMCA, professed her excitement at being able to play baseball once the field is finished.
Indiana County Commissioners Rod Ruddock and Dave Frick were both on hand to support the project.
Others in attendance last week included the Pirate Parrot, Pirates President Frank Coonelly and Patrick Crumb, president of Root Sports, which televises the Pirates games.
The emcee for the day's event was Pirates broadcaster Greg Brown.
Fundraising is still under way for the field, which is slated to open in 2015. Worldwide, there are about 250 Miracle League fields in the United States, Puerto Rico, Canada and Australia. The fields serve over 200,000 children and adults with special needs.
Gina DelFavero is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-459-6100, ext. 2915 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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