A new baseball league is playing its first innings on a new diamond in Schoolcraft.
The Southwest Michigan Miracle League started its first season Sept. 18 and will continue on Saturdays at 10 a.m. and noon through Oct. 23. The Miracle Field is on US-131 adjacent to the Dome Sports Center.
It’s open for kids from 5-19 to play regardless of abilities. The field has a flat rubberized surface to eliminate barriers to players using wheelchairs or who are visually impaired. Dugouts are wheelchair-accessible. Volunteers – “buddies” – work one-on-one with each player, helping them run or wheel around bases or helping them swing a bat.
“We partner every player with a buddy to ensure the player remains safe and has a good time,” said co-founder Jud Hoff. Buddies are over 14 unless they’re from a player’s family. The opportunity to assist players attracts volunteers. “It’s the experience of most miracle fields,” Hoff said. “They have long waiting lists. High school baseball and softball players, church groups and employee groups – they want to be buddies.”
One of the more memorable sights may be the joyful faces of the players.
Hoff saw that before the fundraising for the Schoolcraft field began. “When we were considering building this field, we visited one in Rockford. A kid clearly was suffering physical disabilities. He couldn’t swing a bat. He was in a wheelchair. As his buddy was pushing him down to first base, the look on his face was similar to any kid who hit a home run – a beaming smile!
“I turned to my partner. ‘We’re building one of these!’”
In early 2018, Hoff and three others formed a board of directors and sought and received a 501c3 non-profit designation to receive tax-deductible contributions. He recalls some initial resistance. “People thought it was just sports. It wasn’t just sports.” The kids “formed bonds, relationships, shared experiences. It provided a place in the community for people who don’t participate in sports.”
The fundraising netted $1.2 million, and Hoff and his partner, co-owners of the Dome, donated the adjacent property.
It can accommodate more activities. “We’ve got an additional 15 acres” perhaps for golf, soccer and volleyball. “We’re filing for a nonprofit community center.”
The Miracle League so far has fielded four teams of 10-12 players. “We hope to have 10 or 15 teams that play on the weekend” for an eight-game season. After the kids’ teams are “up and running, we’ll open to other groups, disabled veterans and elder groups.”
The range of disabilities to be accommodated in the Miracle League is wide. “Any kid can play.” And for a quadriplegic youngster? “A robotic bat,” Hoff said.
More information is available at the league’s web site: swmimiracle.org