By Yvette J. Brown
tell you about a youth baseball league that has physically
and mentally challenged children, and youd say, Thats
touching. But when you see these children play, you
will say, Its truly a miracle.'"
-Diane Alford, Miracle League
| 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 dont 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 thats
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.
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
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 Washingtons Consortium for Collaborative
Research on Social Relationships cite these additional reasons
for creating sports programs to integrate disabled and non-disabled
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
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
- 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 childs
involvement in physical activity. Provide your child
with the necessary equipment and transportation in order
to participate. Attend your childs 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 mothers participation
in sports increased her childs likelihood to participate
by 22% while a fathers participation rate increase
his childs likelihood to try sports by 11%.
- Emphasize fun and fitness rather
than competition. Love and support your childs
effort win or lose.
Disease Control and Prevention
Center on Physical Activity and Disability
on Disability and Health
of Washingtons Consortium for Collaborative Research
on Social Relationships