Photos by J. Johns Studios
Baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and…but only for some? The extremely popular summer pastime of baseball will soon be available, both to watch and to participate in, to all residents of the greater Flint area, no matter their abilities or disabilities, thanks in part to a few overachievers who have a shared dream. That dream is of a Miracle League field in Mundy Township with the help of the newly formed Miracle League of Greater Flint (MLGF).
Never heard of a Miracle League field? It will be the first fully accessible sports field in Genesee County. The Miracle League, based in Atlanta, GA, works with communities around the country to provide children with disabilities safe baseball/softball facilities to engage in active recreational programming.
Now, let’s introduce the starting lineup for this team, who are actively spreading the word, drumming up support and accumulating revenue to break ground on this park. The modified baseball field is just the first part in this multilevel park that will encourage everyone, from young to old, regardless of limitations, to come out and enjoy sports.
First up to bat is MLGF director Brian Caine, an incoming senior at Grand Blanc High School who is leading this effort. With plans to go into business after graduation next spring, he applied for a license through the Miracle League to bring a park to his hometown.
“I was at my aunt’s house, who is a league director in DeWitt, and I heard her talking about it,” Caine says. “It sparked my interest because I work with kids with special needs and I play baseball. I just felt this was something that needs to happen here.”
“Our community has an adult population with disabilities and those adults may be parents or grandparents. The park will allow them to play with their children or grandchildren also.” —Sophia Bong
So Caine reached out to the national headquarters and learned all about how to set up the field, including options to individualize it. “Each league is unique to its area and has its own features from several to choose from.”
Next up is Sophia Bong, owner and CEO of Strength Training and Recovery (STAR Rehab), who also sits on the board of the MLGF. Bong has worked in Grand Blanc for 14 years at STAR Rehab, which offers physical therapy among other services. STAR Rehab specializes in working with individuals with physical and cognitive disabilities.
“My rehabilitation program pushes reintegration and encourages our clients to use their new physical gains to live active lives. But many times, these desires are limited by accessibility. So, about a year ago, I went to the board members of my own nonprofit, the Guiding Star Foundation, to research the process of building an accessible park and raise funding,” Bong says. “Brian Caine had already filed paperwork with the National Miracle League, to build a park and brought us all together.”
To round out the top three, Kay Doerr, trustee on the Mundy Township board, connected with Caine and his group to help the project.
“I have a son with autism, so this project is very meaningful to me,” Doerr says. “The Mundy Township Board worked with the MLGF and Rowe Professional Services to create a park plan that would meet the needs of all residents, not just athletes, not just people with disabilities but all people.”
Doerr referenced a large piece of land, almost 74 acres along Hill Road, where work on the park is projected to begin in 2018. The planned park will include soccer fields, baseball diamonds, walking trails and the Miracle League field, which will be started first.
“Township Supervisor David Guigear’s vision and his strong support of partnering with Miracle League to help achieve the goal of a healthy inclusive environment is a win for the community,” Doerr says. “I’m proud to be part of this exciting project.”
Bong sees the new Miracle League field as a game-changer for all ages because the park isn’t only for children with disabilities. “Realize that those little children grow up and still need to stay active. And not all people with disabilities are born with them. Some are acquired as adults. Our community has an adult population with disabilities and those adults may be parents or grandparents. The park will allow them to play with their children or grandchildren also.”
For Caine, the chance to start a new charitable organization while in high school has been a great life lesson. “I am learning so much through this process, and I can’t wait for the day when we open the park and kids of all abilities get to play ball.