For many Metro Detroit families, spring means one thing: baseball! Kids’ baseball, softball and tee-ball games abound on fields from Detroit to Lapeer and Howell to Roseville, with families and friends on the stands cheering them on.
One Plymouth organization has made this much-loved sport accessible to all kids by altering the field — literally. Last year, The Miracle League of Plymouth debuted The Bilkie Field — a state-of-the art rubberized, wheelchair-accessible field and family gathering area. Perched behind Plymouth’s Central Middle School on land leased from the school district, the field provides an opportunity for all kids, regardless of their abilities or special needs, to play baseball.
“Any parent who feels that this is a place for their child, they are welcome,” said Debra Madonna, president and commissioner of The Miracle League of Plymouth. “They can safely learn how to play baseball. The field is level, it’s cushioned, there are no bases to trip over, and it makes it safe and accessible for all.”
Children ages 5 and up — some even over 18 years old – who are in wheelchairs, have autism or have any other physical, mental or emotional condition that prevents them from playing on a typical field and typical league are welcome to register. For $85, the families get six weeks of baseball – one game a week with no practices, since many families drive from far-out areas – plus some extra activities like family Easter egg hunts and other celebrations held at the field.
The Miracle League of Plymouth – one of 225 or so leagues around the country – played 63 children on six teams during its inaugural season in August. 2011. The next season, for which registration is under way, begins May 5, and there will be another season in late August. Madonna said she hopes to register 60 to 100 players this time around.
Some 125 to 150 volunteers run the organization – there are no paid positions – and include the board, coaches, umpires, announcers, photographers and other game day volunteers, as well as buddies. “(Buddies are) there to assist as much or as little as the players need,” Madonna explained. Children 10 years of age and older can be buddies, and oftentimes, it’s kids who make the best buddies, Madonna said. “The young people are good. They have a really good intuitive sense.”
The field not only provides a safe place for kids of all abilities to play, but a gathering place for families, Madonna said. “This is not a place where people drop their kids off. It’s all families here.”
Giving parents an opportunity to sit and watch their children and cheer them on is satisfying, Madonna said. It provides a rare opportunity for the kids to take center stage, and for the parents to celebrate that. “There’s no pressure here,” Madonna said. “We cheer both sides. There’s no booing.”
With support from the Plymouth community and those surrounding it, The Miracle League raised $500,000 to build the field, plus additional endowment funds, all during an economic downturn – testament to the support for such a field, Madonna said. Donors who made the project possible included LaRiche Chevrolet in Plymouth, the Detroit Tigers Alumni Association and many others.
“It’s a great little place,” Madonna said of the field. “When you walk out, (it’s like) your feet don’t touch the ground. To see the kids blossom and grow is really something. What’s satisfying for me is, the intent was to get kids out there playing baseball, and we did that.”
For registration and other information, visit www.miracleleagueplymouth.org.