Baseball has long been called America’s pastime. and thanks to the hard work of Monticello residents, disabled children have the opportunity to experience the joys of the game at the city’s new Miracle League field.
The field, which opened in June, marks the sixth disability-friendly ball field in Arkansas, but the only field in southeast Arkansas. Before the Monticello field was built, families had to travel 89 miles northwest to Little Rock so their children play on fields made specifically for them.
The Miracle League of Southeast Arkansas noticed the community’s need for a field of its own and set to work to bring the joys of baseball to Monticello.
“Children with disabilities need to be able to experience what it means to play ball, have fun, be part of a team and have a feeling of accomplishment,” City Clerk Andrea Chambers said. “Many children with disabilities are unable to travel to Little Rock for either health or financial reasons. Having a Miracle League field in southeast Arkansas would allow them to play baseball without any barriers, letting them experience the pure joy of team sports.”
Miracle League is a national organization that provides barrier-free baseball in over 250 cities across the country. There’s even an all-star game for the children to compete in. The Miracle League field enables special needs children to be a part of a real baseball team regardless of their abilities.
The rules follow standard baseball guidelines, with just a few exceptions. During each game, every player has a buddy to help protect and assist them. No one is ever called “out” in Miracle League games and each player gets to bat, circle the bases and score a run each inning.
The field, made of a special, synthesized rubber surface, allows easy access for walkers, wheelchairs and other mobility devices.
The Monticello Miracle League dream began in February 2014 when Karen Connelly, president of the Miracle League of Southeast Arkansas, presented the idea of building a field to the City Council of Monticello. Connelly requested that the Miracle League partner with the city of Monticello to obtain a field and financial support.
After the council decided to move forward with the project, a fundraising effort raised over $1 million to put towards the project. The field was constructed at Monticello’s Sports Complex, complete with handicap accessible bathrooms, a concession stand and pavilion area.
ETC Engineering of Little Rock donated engineering costs, which saved the project several thousands of dollars, Chambers estimated.
Along with the field, the Miracle League of Southeast Arkansas designed and funded an inclusive playground next to the field. The playground allows individuals of all ages who have disabilities the chance to play alongside their able-bodied peers and family.
Chambers said the Miracle League project has been a huge success thanks to community support and volunteer hours.
“There are many individuals that deserve a sincere thanks for their financial support, volunteerism and encouragement along the way,” she said. “Disability does not discriminate and southeast Arkansas has become a voice to provide recreation for individuals with special needs. A true ‘miracle’ has happened in southeast Arkansas.”
After wrapping up its summer baseball season, Miracle League of Southeast Arkansas was already planning for a fall season. Connelly said she was expecting close to 100 players to sign up.