Miracle League of Joliet a diamond gem for those with special needs
BY DENISE M. BARAN-UNLAND Correspondent July 26, 2013 3:10PM
Zachary Loeffler receives a big hug from his father, Brett. | Supplied photo
Updated: August 30, 2013 6:22AM
It isn’t in all baseball leagues that a rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” will soothe a player’s jittery nerves.
Nor do all leagues allow the beginning of a game to be delayed to wait for a “buddy” to arrive at Joliet Union Station.
But the Miracle League of Joliet is no ordinary baseball league.
Every member — age 3 and up — of this all-age league has a mental or physical disability. These include paraplegics, individuals with autism or cerebral palsy, and those who are visually or hearing impaired, said executive director Sharon Ferro of Minooka.
“It can be anything,” Ferro said. “If you have a special need, we’ll let you on.”
Applications for its six-week, Fall 2013 league must be submitted by Aug. 1. Games are noncompetitive. Games for noninstructional teams are two innings long; for instructional teams, they are three. All players will bat each inning.
The season opens Aug. 31 and runs until Oct. 5. Games are held from 8:45 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. each Saturday. Each player will receive a trophy.
“We think the league is a great place for them to be,” Ferro said. “It develops their social skills, helps improve their attention spans and gives them an opportunity to be physically active and part of a group.”
Games are conducted on a rubberized field inside Silver Cross Field, although the entrance to the Miracle League of Joliet’s area is 120 E. Clinton St. This special field is free from dirt, dips in the ground, or pebbles, so players requiring wheelchairs or walkers are not hampered during the game.
“They can be themselves without worrying if anyone is looking at them,” Ferro said. “If a kid is having a bad day on the field, it’s OK. We can just wait for that to pass and then we can keep going with the game.”
All players are matched with a “buddy” who assists them during the game. Buddies are at least 12 years old and typically make a six-week commitment to a player. This frees up parents to relax and enjoy the game.
“For some parents, this is the only hour-and-a-half all week that they are not tied down,” Ferro said. “One dad wrote and said he got to realize his dream of coaching his child on a team.”
If a buddy knows he cannot attend all the games, he brings a second buddy with him to help out. This way, the player becomes equally comfortable with the substitute.
“We had 172 kids in the spring,” Ferro said, “which means we had at least 172 buddies.”
The field cost $768,000 to build. The Miracle League of Joliet, which was formed in 2005 and had its first season in 2007, raised the money through fundraising and paid off the field last year.
Ferro said the Miracle League of Joliet has a “great relationship” with the Joliet Slammers.
“They sometimes come over and help out the kids,” Ferro said. “Last week, they let the kids come out on their field during a Slammers game to get their trophies. They announced the kids’ names, and one of the kids got to throw the first ball.”
The league is planning two more construction projects. One is a building to hold supplies and concessions; the other is a handicapped-accessible playground within the confines of Silver Cross Field. The next benefit is a Sept. 28 poker run.
Cost for the six weeks is $45. To register online, visit www.miracleleagueofjoliet.com. For more information, call Ferro at 815-258-3799.