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Miracle League looks to future

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Cindy Brooks founded the Miracle League of New Castle, inspired by her daughter, Hannah, who at now age 26, stillloves to play baseball each summer. Brooks had no idea that the league would grow and continue as it has. She is dreaming ofbig things to come for the league.
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Miracle League Mets Coach Joshua Nunnery pitches to his daughter, Adalee, in a leaguegame last season.
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Miracle League of New Castle Founder and DirectorCindy Brooks,left, accepts the gift of a bench from Jaron Baker of Hagerstown, who made it. He attends the New Castle Career Center and is now a senior at Hagerstown High School.Bids from the public are being accepted on the bench. Money raised from it will go toward the league’s dream of a newfield and related amenities.

By DONNA CRONK - dcronk@thecouriertimes.com

Eleven years ago, Cindy Brooks hoped to give her daughter, Hannah, a fun experience playing baseball. Hannah, now 26, couldn’t understand why her brothers got to play the game but she didn’t. 

So the mom made a way, creating what is now a specialized league for children and adults ages 3 and up with cognitive and/or physical disabilities, where they play by T-ball rules, and have buddies helping them out on the field.

“I thought we’d just play that one year,” recalls Brooks.

But little did she know then that she had founded what is now a New Castle staple that last year served about 130 players, and 11 years later, is going strong. In fact, plans are under way to raise money for their own Miracle League baseball complex.

“It’s a lot of hard work ... but as soon as you see them, that joy and smile and high fives; it’s all worth it,” says Brooks, who is founder and league director.

League opening day is Saturday, July 27 with play on Friday nights and Saturdays for the seven-week season. Those wanting to sign up can do so on the website at miracleleagueofnewcastle.com. Buddies and other volunteers  willing to assist a little or a lot can also sign up there. To register other ways or for information, contact Brooks at 765-524-4650 or email her at newcastlemiracleleague@yahoo.com.

It is not a pay-to-play organization, but the league requests a $25 donation per player if possible to help with expenses.

The payoff is this. Says Brooks, “It’s like watching the winners of the World Series every time they play.”

Dreaming of a new field

While the league currently plays on the girls softball field at Baker Park, organizers are hoping for their own field of dreams. Brooks  explains that it would have two synthetic turf ballfields, an all-assessable playground and restrooms, concessions and bleachers. 

She’s talking to the city to see if there is any ground available. She said of the 300 Miracle League fields throughout the country, none had to pay for their land, but it was provided to the leagues free of charge in the different communities.

The local league pays a membership fee to the Miracle League headquarters, based in Conyers, Georgia. As part of their membership, building plans for a new complex would be provided for no extra charge. Cost of building it and materials, however, would need to be paid by either a corporate donor or the money raised to fund it. Or, it may be a combined effort.

Brooks said it would be possible to host competitive travel games or even host an All-Star game. Such a thing is not do-able now, for one reason – because the current field is not totally wheelchair accessible. “We can use it but there are barriers there that slow things down some,” Brooks says.

Fundraiser has begun

Fundraising for the goal of a new complex is underway now with a bench made by Jaron Baker, who while a junior at New Castle Career Center, built a bench and his family paid for it to be power coated. He is now a senior at Hagerstown High School.

The idea came from Steven Vitatoe, welding instructor at the career center, who found the league’s abandoned cash register last year after it had been stolen in a theft that amounted to a total $700 loss to the league.

He offered to make a bench and chose the word HOPE to place on it. Brooks was taken aback by the word in a positive way because she said the word HOPE is a league theme word.

Vitatoe says of Miracle League, “I really think it is important for everyone to have access to fun activities. After I heard about the break-in I was really upset and wanted to help out.”

He said Mary Logan came up with the idea of a HOPE bench, “and we all got to work.”

The bench was donated to the league and the public is welcome to place bids on it now through July 27. It will go to the to the highest bidder, and be announced at noon, Saturday, Aug. 3 at the ballpark.

Miracle League is a club within a club as part of the Breakfast Optimists. Brooks says that all three local Optimists clubs help sponsor the organization, along with an anonymous sponsor that helps with uniforms and hats.

To place a bid, use the email in this article or go to the Facebook page of Miracle League of New Castle and private message.

Brooks says the cost to create a Miracle League complex – which could be done in phases, and one that would include lighting and bleachers – would come in around $900,000. 

She would love to see corporate sponsors help with such a large figure. She says the city is working well with the league. “I would like to partner with Special Olympics to build a complex that would include a track, soccer fields, basketball court ...” says Brooks.

Miracle League Co-Director Tammy Rains thinks getting the complex is do-able. In addition to her player son, Mike Cole, 38, several members of her family are involved in various ways from coaching to offering support as volunteers.

“It’s just a joy to interact with all the players,” says Rains, who has been involved all 11 years. “Just to see the joy on their faces, the fun they are having ...”

While it might take a miracle to get a complex built here – that is, after all, the name of the league. 

Says Brooks, “... We are praying that we can find a great place for this park.”