The Miracle League Provides Sports Diversion for Special Needs Kids
May 19, 2014 03:40PM
● By Lisa Drake
Miracles are happening in cities all across the country. In fact, there’s one going on right now in Arlington thanks to the Miracle League of DFW.
The non-profit organization is a baseball league that provides the opportunity for mentally and physically challenged kids to play baseball without any financial burden. That’s important because many of these families are financially stressed from the medical costs they incur from doctors and hospitals. The group’s executive director is Briana Sundberg Rishel, yes, that Sundberg. She’s longtime Texas Rangers catcher Jim Sundberg’s youngest child.
The Miracle League of DFW is based in Arlington and is in its 9th season of existence. It has been led by Rishel for the past 4 years. She works closely with the organization’s 5 board members (Lisa and Dave Jennett, J. Hutcherson, Paul Jones and Tripp Roden) in a concerted effort to raise funds and sponsorship, recruit volunteers and continue to put kids on the baseball diamond for two short seasons each year.
Rishel described the Miracle League’s origins here in Arlington. “Doug Inman was a local businessman and big sports fan who saw a video once about the Miracle League,” she says. “He just thought this was the coolest kids gig he had ever seen and he wanted to give back to our community in a huge way.”
So, she says, he set about gathering a community of likeminded contributors and volunteers to build and operate a Miracle League baseball field. He got the YMCA and the Arlington ISD involved and started knocking on doors of local business people and groups seeking support. “No one was safe from his emotional crusade for kids he didn't even know,” says Rishel. It only took him six months to raise almost a half million dollars to get the program running.
A decade after its launch here, the Miracle League runs predominantly on the efforts of a single employee (Rishel), it’s five board members and around 200 volunteers per season. And it’s all for the kids. “The league consists of about 400 players in the spring and 350 players in the fall,” says Rishel. “Game days could not be done without the help and time of our amazing volunteer coaches and “buddies,” who assist and cheer on each player.”
In the Miracle League, every player gets to bat once each inning, every player has a “buddy” who is there to assist them and to cheer them on, every player is safe on bases, every player rounds the bases and gets to score a run each inning, and the last player in the lineup gets a home run. They play on a special field developed just for them. It’s custom-designed with a cushioned, rubberized surface to help prevent injuries and to facilitate the use of wheelchairs, walkers and the special needs of the players.
A SPECIAL CALLING
Rishel says her favorite part of being involved with the Miracle League is the kids. “I love seeing the joy and the smiles on their faces. The field is filled with kids playing baseball with their friends and their favorite coach or buddy,” she says. “No one is focused on their differences, they’re just kids doing what they love and playing baseball.”
The joy of the parents is also an added bonus, says Rishel. She calls them “Warrior” parents because they so often split their work hours so that one of them can be home with their child 24/7 and in and out of hospitals when necessary. But for that one hour each game day, they get to be sport parents. Whether that’s sitting in the stands watching the pure joy on their child’s face or being their child’s buddy and experiencing the joy of playing with them. These parents are a part of the joy.
For Briana Sundberg Rishel, the Miracle League of DFW - Arlington, TX has been a labor of love. As a young camp counselor while in college, she was called upon to work with a handicapped camper her very first summer. “I was blessed to have the opportunity to be her counselor because the experience forever changed me. It was my counseling experience that made me realize I had a heart for children with mental and physical differences and challenges.”
Today, she’s following her heart to a special field of dreams.
Miracle League Stats
The first Miracle League began in Georgia in 1998 when the Rockdale Youth Baseball Association invited children with disabilities to use their field to play baseball. That first season, 140 players came out to play baseball and the miracle began. Today’s Miracle Leagues offers kids with autism, blindness, Down’s syndrome, and other physical challenges a chance to play baseball.
“Our biggest challenge is finding sponsors to help keep it going,” says Briana Sundberg Rishel, Miracle League of DFW’s executive director. “Our main priority is to keep this league financially free for our parents, but as we grow so do our costs of operating. Of course we need sponsors and volunteers but fundraising never stops for us.”
There are numerous ways to get involved with the Miracle League of DFW. To volunteer, donate, sponsor or learn more about the Miracle League, contact Briana Sundberg Rishel at 972-514-9985, email email@example.com, or visit www.miracleleaguedfw.org.