INDIANA — Growing up, young children dream of playing baseball on the big stage, with bright lights, cheering fans and enthusiastic announcers.
Unfortunately for youngsters with disabilities, the idea of playing a game of baseball seems like a daunting task. But in April of 2000, that all changed when the first Miracle League Field was completed in Rockdale County, Georgia, and it allowed children with disabilities to enjoy America's favorite pastime.
Now, 13 years later with 250 organizations across the country and over 80 fields built, Indiana, Pa., is ready to bring a field to its town.
On July 2, a press conference was held at the Indiana County YMCA, where the Pirates Charities contributed $150,000 to the cause and partnered with the Miracle League of Indiana County (MLOIC). As a result, the Pirates Charities Miracle League of Indiana County was formed with the field to be built at the partnering Indiana County YMCA's facility in front of the building beside West Pike road.
"Five years ago, my son (Mike Sherry) built one (a Miracle League field) in Cranberry Township. It was the first Miracle Field in the area at that time... This will be the fifth one in this area. Because I was familiar with it because of my son, I knew it was something we needed to do here in Indiana.
“So, I've been thinking about it for quite a while, and Jerry (Gillette) was retired from his job and was looking for
something and got interested in the Miracle League also. He came here to the (Indiana County) YMCA to talk to Eric (Neal) and say, "This is my idea," and Eric said you need to get ahold of Nancy (Sherry-Helsel). So between he and I (Nancy and Jerry), we decided this is what we wanted to do," said Nancy Sherry-Helsel, co-founder of MLOIC.
"Jerry and I decided this is what we really want to do, and we weren't sure where we were going to put it and we came to the Y, and they said you can have our land to put in on. It's kind-of a win-win situation for both; it's good for us, and it's good for the Y."
Miracle League fields are a rubber turf surface that are easily accessible for kids with wheelchairs or crutches, along with a dugout that is on the same level as the playing field.
The players, ages 5-18, receive the help of a "buddy" from various volunteer groups to assist during the game. The field will be equipped with benches, lighting, a PA system, handicapped restrooms and pavilions.
The National Anthem will be sung before each game and "Take Me Out to the Ball game" will be sung between games.
Every player's name will be announced when he or she goes up to bat, and they will all get the opportunity to round the bases.
Each game consists of two innings, with every player getting a chance to bat, circle the bases and score a run each inning.
No player is ever called out, and the final batter of the inning hits a home run to end the at bat.
The teams use a 9-inch soft-core safety baseball with a synthetic cover, and each player receives a trophy at the end of the season.
There will be an 8-game Spring season and a 6-game Fall season.
"There's a need (for a Miracle League Field), probably in every county of the United States," said Jerry Gillette, co-founder of MLOIC.
"We expect (kids) from Jefferson (County), Armstrong, Indiana, Cambria and Westmoreland to be able to use this field. That's just one of the reasons why we decided to build here, because it's needed."
The organization has raised over $380,000 of its projected $500,000, and the field should be up and running by 2015.
"Because the money has been coming in and people have been very generous, we're going to try to have the field dug and prepped this fall at some point. We have some people who are donating their time and their machinery and equipment for us. If we
can get that done and the black top done, the rest of next year we'll take to finish it. We'll get it ready, so it'll probably be 2015 that will be our actual opening time," said Sherry-Helsel.
Those interested in making a donation, volunteering as a buddy, starting a team or looking for more information can visit the website at www.mloic.org .