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'Miracle' makers get a step closer to reality
Hernando County agrees to lease land to a baseball league for kids with disabilities.
By BARBARA BEHRENDT, Times Staff Writer
Published September 20, 2007
BROOKSVILLE - Parents and educators routinely extol the virtues of organized youth activities in promoting physical fitness and positive social interactions. But children with disabilities often are left on the sidelines.
For Hernando's disabled children, a new option could soon be available.
The County Commission this week voted unanimously to lease a portion of Anderson Snow Park to the Miracle League of Hernando County Inc. for $1 a year for 30 years.
The fledgling organization plans to raise money to build a custom-designed field similar to those built for other Miracle League facilities around the country. Those fields feature cushioned synthetic turf to accommodate wheelchairs and walking devices and to help prevent injuries.
Steve Vincelli, who moved to Hernando from Pinellas County this year, worked with a similar Miracle League there. He will serve as the Hernando league's director.
"It's run just like a baseball league," he told commissioners Tuesday.
Make new friends
Participants would be children with serious mental or physical disabilities who play in a league with others facing similar challenges. All fundraising to pay for the league is done through the voluntary board.
"The Miracle League is about making new friends and building self-esteem. It uses a buddy system that pairs each player with an able-bodied peer," according to the group's proposal. "The result is a bond... in an environment that allows these children to be treated just like other kids."
The facility will be built on a portion of Anderson Snow Park, which is part of the 50 acres the county purchased last year from the utilities department.
The league's leadership estimates that the efforts to raise money and build the field should be completed within two years now that a site is secured. The group even cites the economic benefits to the local community by having such a program.
"Although members of the steering committee are not experts in providing the detailed economic benefits the city might garner in hosting a Miracle League ball field, our discussions with other Miracle League parks have taught us that area restaurants, gas stations and shopping centers benefit from their presence since practice and/or ball game days are typically an all-day affair for families," the proposal states.
Adults also can play
In the three-county area of Hernando, Pasco and Citrus, an estimated 16,000 children age 3 to 21 have special needs. The fields also can be used by adults with special needs "giving them the chance to play the game most of them have always wanted to play or play again," according to the proposal.
"I think this is a tremendous opportunity for the county and certainly for children out there who are less fortunate," said Commissioner Diane Rowden.
In the past year, there have been more and more requests for services for children with special needs, according to Pat Fagan, parks and recreation director. Also a member of the Hernando County School Board, Fagan said the parks staff has met with school district officials to talk about how to provide such services.
"I think this is a win-win for us all," he said.
Commissioner Rose Rocco said she had heard about the program through the Rotary Club and there was much support for the idea. "It's important to have well-rounded sports activities for all children," she said.
Commissioner Chris Kingsley asked if the county had tried to get a similar program started before and Fagan said they had but the effort never got off the ground.
"I hope that we're not going to have the same problem," Fagan said. "A lot of it has to do with donations received in the community."
The idea for the league sprouted in Georgia in the late 1990s. There are 180 Miracle League organizations across the country boasting 80 rubberized fields and more than 100 fields under construction. Total participation by disabled children and young adults is estimated at more than 25,000.
For more information about the Miracle League, visit www.miracleleague.com.