Education Feature
Disabled Baseball Programs
By Yvette J. Brown
CWK Producer
 

"I can tell you about a youth baseball league that has physically and mentally challenged children, and you’d say, ‘That’s touching.’ But when you see these children play, you will say, ‘It’s truly a miracle.'"
-Diane Alford, Miracle League executive director-

“Ready? Go Yankees!” chant teammates as they gear up to face their big opponent – the Red Sox.

These players are not a part of Major League Baseball, but their team is no less special.

“These children just want to pitch the ball. They just want to catch the ball. They just want to go around the bases,” says Diane Alford, executive director of the Miracle League.

Thanks to the Miracle League, a grassroots organization that helps build baseball fields for the physically challenged, disabled children from all walks of life are getting a chance to play ball. The effort began five years ago with the simple desire of one young boy.

“We had a 7-year-old boy who sat in a wheelchair behind the fence and watched his 5-year-old brother play T-ball,” Alford says. “He attended all the games, all the practices. So in the fall of ’97, a coach invited this young boy to come on the field and play baseball.”

That was the beginning – now, 34 specially designed playing fields are under construction with plans for 100 more by the end of next year. For countless numbers of kids, those fields represent a world of opportunity.

“Some kids, they don’t even get to play baseball ’cause they are in wheelchairs, but now they can play,” beams 13-year-old Shyrandi from her own wheelchair. She has been playing with the Miracle League since the beginning.

“Not only does it give them something fun to do that’s non-competitive, but it also gives these children some self-confidence that they too can do just like their brothers and sisters and friends in school,” Alford says.

“Four years ago, before I started playing, I would give up on myself,” explains Samantha, 13.

Now, she pushes herself to the limit rounding the bases with confidence and pride despite the leg braces she wears. Samantha serves as a reminder to adults and children that every child deserves a chance to prove his or her abilities – even if he or she has a disability.
 
Team Sports Boost Disabled Kids’ Self-Esteem, Social Skills

By Kim Ogletree
CWK Network, Inc.

The Office on Disability and Health currently estimates that 6.1% of U.S. youth under age 18 suffer a disability. Oftentimes, these disabled children feel isolated and ostracized by their peers, particularly in the area of sports and leisure, because so few opportunities for their participation in sports exist. Now several organizations, including the Miracle League Association, are trying to fill that void by creating sports programs that include both disabled and non-disabled children. Not only are these integrated programs helping disabled children get the exercise that all children need, but they are also providing them with a new outlet for their development of social skills and increased self-esteem.

Why is it important for disabled children to become involved in team sports? All children, including disabled youth, need exercise to help improve their flexibility and range of motion. The National Center on Physical Activity and Disability cites these additional advantages of being physically active:

  • Helps development of skill and strategy
  • Increases hand-eye coordination
  • Increases strength and endurance

Participation in sports is also correlated to better grades in school and better behavior inside and outside of the classroom. According to more than 60 studies conducted at the University of Oregon, those youth (disabled and non-disabled) who do not participate in sports are affected in the following ways:

  • Approximately 57% are more likely to drop out of school.
  • An estimated 49% are more likely to use drugs.
  • Approximately 35% are more likely to smoke cigarettes.
  • About 27% are more likely to have been arrested.
 
What Parents Need to Know

The psychological and social benefits of team sports participation are just as important as the physical benefits, according to experts from Michigan State University. People who have a disability and who participate in sports or regular exercise have been shown to handle pressure and stressful situations better than those who do not exercise. They also experience less depression, confusion, tension and anger. Rowan University and the University of Washington’s Consortium for Collaborative Research on Social Relationships cite these additional reasons for creating sports programs to integrate disabled and non-disabled youth:

Benefits for disabled youth:

  • Disabled youths’ social and communication skills improve. Students often learn desirable behaviors best from each other in a typical environment.
  • They experience a decrease in stigmatization. Students with disabilities report feeling more like a part of their peer community because they are able to contribute to the team or group effort.
  • Being an integral part of a group allows disabled youth to develop social judgment and take and follow peer leadership.
  • Students with disabilities are able to foster friendships in a natural way and in a natural environment. This sense of belonging helps build self-esteem and a feeling of personal achievement.

Benefits for non-disabled youth:

  • Non-disabled youth are provided with the opportunity to develop positive attitudes toward people with differences.
  • Youth without disabilities are able to develop new kinds of friendships. They learn to become more aware of the needs of others, and they learn the necessary skills in order to understand and react to the behaviors of their friends with disabilities.
  • Non-disabled youth experience an increase in self-esteem because they are able to act as a leader and mentor to those youth with severe disabilities.
  • Working and playing with disabled peers allows non-disabled youth to develop patience, tolerance and compassion.

Whether your child is disabled or non-disabled, it is important to encourage him or her to participate in some type of sport. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offer the following tips for getting your child involved and maintaining an interest in sports activities:

  • Photograph your child being active. This will help you show your child how proud you are of his or her involvement in sports.
  • Actively support your child’s involvement in physical activity. Provide your child with the necessary equipment and transportation in order to participate. Attend your child’s games as often as you can. You might even consider volunteering as a coach or assistant in order to give your child the necessary emotional support he or she needs.
  • Be an active role model yourself. Statistics from the CDC show that a mother’s participation in sports increased her child’s likelihood to participate by 22% while a father’s participation rate increase his child’s likelihood to try sports by 11%.
  • Emphasize fun and fitness rather than competition. Love and support your child’s effort win or lose.
 
Resources

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Michigan State University
National Center on Physical Activity and Disability
Office on Disability and Health
Rowan University
University of Oregon
University of Washington’s Consortium for Collaborative Research on Social Relationships