Group to bring Miracle League for special needs children to

Burlington County

Burlington County Times 

By Danielle Camilli Staff writer | Posted: Monday, March 18, 2013 4:38 pm

DELANCO — The Willingboro Rotary envisions a field of dreams for children with special needs.

The nonprofit group is hoping to bring a barrier-free Miracle League field to Burlington County’s Pennington Park off Creek Road. The Rotary’s dream got its first boost of community support last week when the Burlington County Board of Freeholders agreed to lease about an acre at Pennington to the group.

“I have stood in that field there, and I can envision it,” said the Rotary’s Ray Beltz, who gets emotional thinking about the children he hopes one day will fill the baseball diamond. “I don’t want to say it will take a miracle to get done, but we are counting on the support of the whole community. We cannot say no to these children.”

Miracle League fields are specially designed, cushioned synthetic turf that make it safe for children with various types of disabilities and mobility issues. Players in wheelchairs and walkers and others who can run can play without fear of obstructions because the base path, bases, batter’s box, pitcher’s mound and home plate are painted onto the field.

The paths are wider to accommodate mobile devices, including crutches and braces, and aid with any visual impairment or other challenges, organizers said. Even the dugouts, concession stands, parking and other areas are built to be accessible to those with special needs.

“Miracle League takes away all the obstacles and lets kids be kids and play with no worries,” Beltz said. “Every kid gets on base. Whatever it takes, they get there and they play.”

He acknowledged that it’s a huge undertaking to build the Miracle League field. The synthetic turf alone costs about $125,000, and fields in other areas cost between $250,000 and $500,000, depending on the condition of the land and the additional buildings constructed to support the field.

Beltz said the Willingboro Rotary will be forming a special nonprofit to raise money for the Miracle League and is looking for corporate and individual sponsors. The nonprofit will sell advertising, naming rights and eventually personalized bricks.

“This is something we need here, and we’re spearheading the effort. But we want the community to come in and help us run with this,” he said. “These are very special children, and they and their families need an outlet.”

The Miracle League of Mercer County was built and opened on land donated by the Hamilton Area YMCA in the fall of 2005. It fields teams in the spring and fall with children from as far away as North Jersey coming to play.

“Everybody appreciates it, but I find our children and families with children with physical disabilities really cherish it the most,” said Kathy Rhead, executive director of the Miracle League of Mercer County. “The parents weren’t sure their children would ever be able to be out there on a field, and finally they have some place to play.”

Rhead said while there are numerous programs for children with special needs, it is often hard to find activities for those with physical disabilities and who are medically fragile. Miracle League is safe for these children, she said.

The freeholders believe the Miracle League will be a good fit at Pennington Park. The field will be close to a parking lot near the playground. It will be accessible to the wide paths now at the park, and the nearby nature trails are handicapped-accessible.

Pennington Park also is close to Route 130 and New Jersey Transit’s River Line station in Delanco.

“It’s a good outreach for us and a good use of our park,” said freeholder Director Joseph Donnelly, noting the success of Mercer County and another Miracle League in the Lehigh Valley in Pennsylvania.

“It accommodates a lot of folks,” Donnelly said. “I think it’s an excellent way for our county to expand the usability and the accessibility of our park for the entire community. … There is definitely a need for it.”

Beltz said he looks forward to moving ahead with the project and hopes the Miracle League can be ready by next spring.

“The county has welcomed us with open arms, and I think the community will do the same. This is going to be something very special,” he said. “If people come to us with open hearts and open pocketbooks, nothing can stop us. Like they say, ‘If we build it, they will come.’ ”