Miracle League History

How the Miracle League Was Started

The concept of the Miracle League first began in Georgia in 1997 when Rockdale Youth Baseball Association coach Eddie Bagwell invited the first disabled child, Michael, to play baseball on his team. Michael, a 7-year-old child in a wheel chair, had attended every game and practice to cheer on his 5-year-old brother playing America’s favorite pastime.

In 1998, 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 their ability. The disabled children in the community had expressed the desire to dress in uniforms, make plays in the field, and round the bases just like their peers. The league began with 35 players on four teams.

In its first season, there were no programs to copy. It was decided that each player would bat once each inning that all batters would be safe and score a run before the inning was over. Each team and each player always wins. Our umpires describes this as the only league where no one ever gets mad at them.

“Buddies” assist Miracle League players. These buddies are children who play baseball, members of youth church groups, and boy and girl scouts, to mention a few. As a result, the parents, children and volunteers are all brought together, special needs and mainstream alike, in a program that serves them all through service to children with special needs.

In its spring 1999 season, the Miracle League gained support and became an increasing source of pride for all involved, as participation grew to over 50 players. During that season, the community realized how much a program like this was needed and how impactful it could be for the over 50,000 children in Metro Atlanta who were disabled. That is when the Miracle League conceived the dream of building a unique baseball complex for these special children.

The Rotary Clubs of Rockdale County and Conyers stepped forward to form the Rotary Miracle League Fund, Inc., a 501 (c) 3 organization. The new organization had two objectives:

(1) Raise the funds necessary to build a special complex with facilities that meet the unique needs of the Miracle League players, and

(2) Assist in the outreach efforts for Miracle Leagues across the country.

With the help of community volunteers and companies, the design and construction of the first Miracle League complex was underway. The complex would include a custom-designed field (with a cushioned
rubberized surface to help prevent injuries), wheelchair accessible dugouts, and a completely flat surface to eliminate any barriers to wheelchair-bound or visually impaired players. The design also included three grass fields, which could be converted to the synthetic rubber surface as the league grew. In addition, accessible restrooms, a concession stand, and picnic pavilion were included in the design.

The Miracle League complex was completed in April 2000. By opening day, the Miracle League rosters had grown to over 100 players. The players raced around the bases and chatted with their teammates in the dugouts as they celebrated. Nicholas Slade, a player who had been in a coma just a week before, threw out the first ball.

The players’ enthusiasm has continued to grow. By spring 2002, over 250 players filled the Miracle League rosters. Parents tell stories of their children insisting on playing despite bouts with kidney stones, broken bones, and recent hospitalizations. The thrill of playing, the cheers from the stands, and the friendships they develop make the Miracle League Field an oasis away from their everyday battles.

The Miracle League has received local and national media attention. The League has been chronicled in the local newspaper, televised locally on NBC, ABC, Connecting With Kids and FOX, Atlanta affiliates and nationally on CNN, MSNBC and Fox Sports. In July 2001, the league was profiled on a segment of HBO’s Real Sports. Articles profiling the League appeared in PeopleFamily Circle, Rotary International magazines, and Paula Deen. In January 2002, two men from the Miracle League were awarded the Martin Luther King Humanitarian Award, and on January 24th PAX TV’s “It A Miracle” told the story of Conyers Miracle League Player Lauren Gunder. February 2002, the Miracle League Players were featured in Rotary Internationals’ PSA, chosen out of 500 applicants. In the winter of 2002, the Miracle League again was profiled in the Georgia Tech Alumni Magazine. In January of 2002, the Miracle League won the 11ALIVE TV Community Service Award, and in June of 2002, the League took the Jefferson Award from the American Institute for Public Services, founded by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and Senator Robert Taft, Jr.

One of the greatest achievements was being inducted to The Baseball Hall of Fame in 2006. The publicity from these media events, coupled with positive word of mouth, raises awareness among the families of children with special needs and allows the Miracle League Association to take the program across the country – and into Northampton Township!