Imagine you’re a parent of a special needs child who longs to play baseball alongside their peers. Yet the criteria for children to gain a spot on a league team are performance-based, therefore your child is at a disadvantage. This was the reality for children with special abilities in Corpus Christi in 2007. As crushing as it was, many parents were at a loss for recreational sports teams on which their children could play baseball regardless of their ability.
The need to remedy this disparity was evident — and later that year, the Rockdale Youth Baseball Association (RYBA) formed the Miracle League to further its mission of providing opportunities for all children to play baseball regardless of skill level, and with an added focus on eliminating potential safety hazards. “The Rotary Club initiated the formation of [the local chapter of] the Miracle League,” said executive director Grace Gonzales, “with the objective to support fundraising for a specialized complex that would be accessible and meet the unique needs of our kids and adults.”
Corpus Christi was just one of many local chapters that started popping up all around the country. Now, there are 250 Miracle League organizations across the United States, Canada and most recently, Australia, serving over 200,000 children and young adults with disabilities.
Kristi Hallgarth, parent representative on the board of The Miracle League of Corpus Christi, was involved in the inception of the local league and continues to volunteer her time and resources for the board to this day. Her son Caleb has been playing for the league for about 10 years now. “We were very excited to find a sports program that supported youth and adults with special abilities,” said Hallgarth. “This is one of only a couple of programs that serves children aged five all the way through to adulthood.”
The league offers opportunities in various sports programs such as baseball, basketball, kickball and its most recent addition, boccia ball. With the wide array of programming here locally, there is no shortage of need for volunteers. “One of the most important elements of a Miracle League game is the ‘buddy’ program. where each player is paired with an able-bodied friend to assist them on and off the field,” Gonzales explained. “We have 200-250 volunteers who participate in our buddy program each year.” The buddy program is open to anyone; the main criteria are enthusiasm and compassion.
Gonzales is planning for a bright future for The Miracle League of Corpus Christi. In the coming months and years, the organization is hoping to expand by building a specialized gymnasium to support its basketball program and partnering with other local area organizations to expand its program offerings. “Our main focus is continued outreach,” said Gonzales. “We currently serve between 400 and 450 players annually, and there are many other children and adults with unique abilities that we want to make aware of our programs.”
As a parent and a special needs advocate, Hallgarth knows how important an organization like the Miracle League is for the overall development of the players involved and the positive impact it has on a community as a whole. “I would love to get our information out to the community,” she said. “We have been blessed by this amazingly supportive community and everyone who gives their time, talent and gifts.”