Miracle League, Mardi Gras Ball and King Rick!
You have been hearing me mention the Miracle League for the past few days. Maybe on Day 6 of the charity week posts we should get to know this great organization. In 1997 in Conyers, Georgia, local baseball coach Eddie Bagwell invited the first child with a disability to play on his organized baseball squad. A young man named Michael, a 7-year old baseball enthusiast who practiced and attended every game in his wheelchair was the initial pioneer.
At first Michael was there to cheer on his little brother, but the following year, in 1998, the Rockdale Youth Baseball Association (RYBA) decided it was time for a chance. They instituted the first league designed especially for children with disabilities and invited other special needs kids in their region to join their budding league.
From the start, the leagues players had expressed a keen interest in taking the field in uniforms, make plays in the field and round the bases just like their peers on the other complex fields. The initial season began with 35 players split into 4 teams. And even if their rules bend the basic rules of organized baseball, the rules were constructed and initiated to give these players the entire baseball experience. Here is a list of some of the first league rules designed for this specialized league:
*** Every player bats once per inning.
*** All players are safe on base.
*** Every player scores a run before the inning is over (the last batter gets a Home Run).
*** Community kids and volunteers serve as “buddies” to help assist the players during the games.
*** Each player and each team wins every game.
“Every Child Deserves A Chance to Play Baseball”
That has been the motto of the Miracle League ever since that first moment Bagwell invited young Michael to play with his team.
From the first moments of the leagues existence to today, the main element of this league was for the players to realize they are not limited by their wheelchairs or disabilities but only by their own minds. Presently there are over 240 Miracle League organizations around the country, including Puerto Rico. At this moment in time, over 200,000 children and young adults playing in Miracle League around the country.
Locally, the Kiwanis Club of the Gulf Beaches heeded the call to duty back in October 2004 after a speaker spoke and shoed the group a DVD about a new innovative youth sports program that had been showcased on the HBO Real Sports program. It was video about the Rockdale Youth Baseball Association and their journey to offering the first barrier free baseball field for kids with special needs.
The presentation tugged at the hearts strings of everyone in attendance, and after the speaker finished, every member stood up and cheered, all agreeing that the Tampa Bay region needed their own Miracle League ballpark. 14 months later, “Violet’s Field” which is situated between the existing baseball field at the Azalea Youth complex held it initial opening ceremonies.
Ongoing support is needed to keep up with the constant upkeep and maintenance of this complex, and the Kiwanis Club of the Gulf Beaches will conclude their third annual month of Mardi Gras celebration with a the organization’s second annual charity Mardi Gras Ball to be held at the historic Gulfport Casino on Monday, March 7, 2011 from 7-11 pm to benefit the Miracle League of the Gulf Beaches.
The event will be presided over by King Rick Vaughn , who is also the Tampa Bay Rays VP of Communications and a great supporter of the Miracle League program. He will be joined in this event by his lovely Queen Sue. There will be an additional silent auction of items from around the community, including a few autographed pieces of baseball memorabilia along with several interesting door prizes to be distributed to those in attendance.
The ballroom will be filled with the sounds of Cajun, Zydeco, Blues and Jazz music as guests bask in the quasi-New Orleans atmosphere complete with authentic Hurricane cocktails and authentic food provided by Bayou Catering. I actually was invited to the 2010 event by fellow Rays/Pepsi Fan Wall of Fame member George Stone, who is also the local Miracle League’s Director of Operations.
Iwas promised a night of Cajun fun, food and excitement, and it delivered with gusto. I especially found the dance (Fais do-do) lessons extremely helpful since I am one of those people who love to learn something new every day. From the hour of group instruction to the amazing red beans and rice, Etouffee and decadent desserts, it was truly a great night to remember.
I hope more of the faces I see among the stands in Tropicana Field will be able to attend this 2011 great event that helps support the Miracle Leagues of the Gulf Beaches. The cost is $ 25.00 and can be purchased in advance by calling Sue Reynolds at (727) 398-1360 in advance of the event. It is not mandatory that you dress in the garb of the Fleur-de-lis, but masks and flamboyant Mardi Gras themed apparel does help to heighten the mood. Until then, “Laissez le Bon temp rouler” (Let the Good Times Roll).