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Fay-West volunteers to raise funds for special-needs sports facilities

| Sunday, Sept. 18, 2011

A group of volunteers from Fayette, Westmoreland, Greene, Somerset and Washington counties are banding together to raise funds for a sports facility for individuals with special needs.

Wilma King is director of the Champions Adaptive League, a nonprofit organization based in Smock, which is open to people ages 3-21 and is made up of more than 80 disabled persons. She says in Fayette County, there are more than 5,000 individuals who are dealing with a disability.

"I took the time to do the research when we started to work toward building this facility. I looked at the statistics for our area. People might not know that we have this many people that are disabled or struggling between the age of 2 to 21, whether it's emotional, mental or physical."

King sees many of the children daily and she said they would not be able to function on a regular baseball team. She works as a speech therapist and got involved in the league after working with a child with cerebral palsy whose family was searching for a baseball team their son could join. King went on to adopt two special-needs children and continued to volunteer with the growing group.

"Our league accepts children with a variety of needs. Maybe they find it difficult to interact with a large group because it causes them confusion, or they find it difficult to play with other children; whatever the reason, we're an organized group with a great atmosphere. I'm happy to say that our league recently affiliated itself with the Miracle League. It's an organization that focuses on unique baseball fields that individuals with special needs can play on. We also work closely with PONY (Protect Our Nation's Youth)."

King says more than 90 volunteers work hard to make the game special for the players and have careers during the day, such as physical, occupational and behavioral therapists, special education teachers, medical staff and other community representatives. She said with volunteers equipped to handle special-needs children, there is no such thing as failure among the six teams who play 6-8 ballgames during a summer season.

"We'd like to play more games but you have to consider our kids. The heat and weather conditions are very big issues for them. We are talking about kids with crutches, walkers, wheelchairs or visually impaired that just can't navigate a muddy field," King said.

The five-acre facility King envisions is estimated to cost $650,000. Thanks to ongoing fundraisers, the league has reached $10,000 in its a goal to raise $50,000 this year.

"We hope to raise these funds over a four-year period. It would allow us to have a special field built for safety with the help of the Miracle League. It would have a rubberized, latex-free surface that would provide cushioning from a fall. Moisture would go through it and water would not lay on it. Therefore, the kids wouldn't have to worry about mud or rain."

Paul Zungri, a volunteer with the league, has seen first-hand the benefits of a Miracle League facility. He teaches life skills to physically disabled students said the field will offer new and exciting experiences for players.

"My 10-year old nephew has Down syndrome. I went to watch him play on a Miracle League field in Ohio. The field is amazing. It was so touching to see these kids' reactions and see them in action. For them, this is big stuff; a lot of them don't' get the chance to join a regular baseball league. It brought a tear to my eye to see them play."

Jessilyn Holp said seeing her 4-year old son, Elijah, play baseball on the field especially brings her joy. Elijah was diagnosed with arthrogryposis, an illness that affects joints and muscles.

"For my son, it affects his arms. We knew something wasn't right just after he was born. Within two weeks, we realized his arms were noticeable smaller and not moving", Holp said.

Holp is proud to say that this is Elijah's second season playing with the Children's Adaptive League and he enjoys swinging a bat immensely. Holp volunteers regularly and said the group is an added support for her family.

"We became involved in order to meet other parents who are experiencing the same things that we are. It helps you to not feel alone. I'm not just a mom; I'm a mom of a child with some very special needs."

Volunteer game day announcer Joshua Scully, a social studies teacher, said there are no limits for these children when they are playing in the league. He said once people have the opportunity to go to a game, they will want to get involved like he did.

"I tell my students that being aware of how society is changing around you and what you can do to help is important. I encourage everyone to get out in the community. There is a way for everyone to volunteer and help out."

Last game of season

The Champions Adaptive League will play its final game of this season on Saturday. Families interested in joining the league can call 724-366-6605 for an application. Additional information about the league can be found online here or by searching Miracle League of Pennsylvania's Laurel Highlands on Facebook.

Fundraiser set

Bethel Baptist Church, 998 N. Gallatin Ave. Ext., Uniontown, will team up with Miracle League of Pennsylvania of Laurel Highlands for a fundraiser Oct. 8. Miracle League is a baseball program for the physically and mentally disabled.

Activities will include a chili cookoff, pie bake and auction, along with a silent auction. Outdoor games and silent auction start at 1 p.m. and chili cookoff and pie auction will be from 1 to 3 p.m.

The event concludes with a piano concert by George Hudak. For more information, call the church office at 724-437-3090.

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