As a parent of a special needs child, Lorie Markwell often feels like she lives within a bubble.
To the outside world–to people who don’t have a loved one with disabilities and parents whose children don’t suffer from mental and physical disorders–Markwell’s 9-year-old daughter, Hailey, is seen as a handful, or disruptive, or just someone to pity.
But that’s not the case on the Miracle League field.
There, Markwell has found a positive outlet for both her daughter and herself, a place to bond and share and support and feel just like everyone else.
The Miracle League of Wilmington, which launched its first season in 2013, allows children and adults with special needs the opportunity to play baseball. The adjacent Kiwanis Miracle Playground is the largest wheelchair accessible playground in the state.
Now, two years later and growing by leaps, the nonprofit league has launched a fundraiser, Cups for Kids, to help continue to grow and support its mission.
Led by BRAX Fundraising, the namesake of the baseball field, the campaign features sets of SpiritCups in a variety of NFL and MLB team logos.
It’s a cause for which Markwell has pounded the pavement to support. Because, she said, like so many others in the bleachers, she knows firsthand the far reaching impact the league has already made.
“It’s just a place where for an hour you feel normal,” she said. “That is so important for parents who are in this situation.”
And, Markwell said, it’s a place where a child like Hailey gets to just be a kid for a little while, to do the things that all kids do.
Hailey suffers from a rare chromosome disorder and a variety of other medical issues, including arthritis and an eye muscle disorder, in addition to learning disabilities.
She is mostly non-verbal, but she does have something to say each time the Markwells tell her she is headed to the field.
“She gets excited when we tell her. We keep her uniform and hat in a certain place, and she’ll go and get it and say ‘put on,'” Markwell noted. “We very seldomly don’t get teary eyed when we go there…It’s so beautiful to see how happy they are.”
Jennifer Bell would certainly agree.
As Miracle League director, Bell has plenty of touching moments logged in her memory–moments of triumph like the first time eight-year-old Isaiah, who is blind, hit his first baseball (which beeped to help him locate it) and moments of true camaraderie among parents and between the players and their volunteer “buddies.”
“Just seeing them out there is so touching, seeing each one of them cross home plate, and they’re all smiling ear to ear,” she said.
It’s one reason the league continues to grow. In 2013, it had about 50 players, Bell said. That number has more than doubled, and participants range in age from four to 65. Teams play in spring and summer seasons, with some summertime games, as well.
The primary purpose of Miracle League is to help those with disabilities get and stay active, something that can be difficult without proper handicap accessibility.
“Here, you can move from parking lot to bathroom without any barrier,” Bell said.
But, she added, it also creates a sense of community.
“Being able to be a part of something like a sports team is so important for their development. They’re gaining friendships…It is such a celebratory environment. And every child deserves to feel celebrated,” Bell said.
Launched earlier this month, Cups for Kids will run until mid-August. Cups come in sets of four (or two travel-sized cups). They are $18 online, with half of the proceeds from online sales going to the Miracle Field.
BRAX and The Miracle League of Wilmington have also created nine teams, complete with a coach and nine players, to raise funds through the sale of Cups for Kids gift cards. After purchasing a card, supporters redeem a scratch-off code to enter online in exchange for a pack of BRAX’s signature cups. Cards also include a 25 percent discount to Pembroke’s restaurant.
Hilary Snow is a reporter at Port City Daily. Reach her at (910) 772-6341 or firstname.lastname@example.org.