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Miracles do happen
News-Sun - 7/10/2018
LAKE PLACID — Miracle League was birthed in the spring of 2007 out of an idea by John Komasa, who asked businessman Dennis Orlos about forming a baseball league for the physically and mentally handicapped of Highlands County.
Miracle League is a non-competitive baseball league for handicap athletes. “Buddies” assist the athletes around the bases and in the outfield.
The men contacted Saundra Bass, parent assistant at the School Board of Highlands County and mother of a disabled son, who offered a unique perspective. John Varaday, Todd Moore, Lana Turner and Adela Casey were among those who helped bring the dream to fruition.
The founding directors were able to take a model from the Atlanta organization, where Miracle League started. From recruiting coaches and buddies, everyone pitched in to make the first season a success. After hours of sensitivity and behavioral training, the first pitch was thrown at the first game that summer after meeting for only 8-10 weeks.
“We just thought we would order uniforms,” Bass said. “We don’t know how many players we will have; we don’t know if people are going to like it. But, we will just go with it. Dennis (Orlos) put up the money for the uniforms. He said ‘tell me what to order and I’ll order them.’ We ordered them, thinking we over-ordered them.
“We thought if we got 10 players that we would be doing well. We had 42 players that first year,” he said.
Bass explained why they chose baseball as opposed to another sport.
“Baseball is considered America’s number one pastime,” she said. “Everybody deserves the chance to play baseball. We looked into Miracle League and another agency. We really liked the model of Miracle League: everybody bats and everybody scores.”
The first year the athletes played on the big baseball field at the Lake June Ball Fields. The second year, the athletes played on the smaller field that is in the same one they use now, only it was a clay field that year.
“We had a lot of players in wheelchairs and walkers and canes,” Bass said. “It quickly came to our attention that the clay wasn’t working.”
According to Bass, Komasa explored different field types that would allow athletes and their buddies to traverse the field easier. He found a rubberized surface that would work. He and Bass approached Glades Electric Charitable Trust about funding the cost of the field. The Charitable Trust board decided to put up the first $50,000 for the new field.
“They believed in us,” Bass said. “We talked to Parks and Recreation in the county, and they agreed to put up some money, and from there it was just people negotiating. The Town of Lake Placid gave permission to the league to create the specialized field. It was really a community effort.”
Originally the league was Miracle League of Lake Placid, however, because of donations, they had to form their own 501c3 non-profit. They are now called the Miracle League for Highlands County with Glades Electric Charitable Trust, Noon Rotary, the Town of Lake Placid and Knights of Columbus being some of their biggest sponsors.
League officials wanted to make sure there was never a charge for the athletes to play, so that was put in the bylaws.
“We are probably one of the only leagues that does that,” Bass said. “That’s done through the community. They have been a huge part of our success.”
The Lake Placid High School Student Government Association and the Key Club are the biggest sources of “Buddy” volunteers. In any given season, the average number of athletes is 75-85. The average number of buddies amount to 18-25. The students get service hours for school that they need for scholarships.
Two seasons ago, Harry Durbano, a Lake Placid town employee, built a covered announcer’s box for the volunteers that call games. W & W Lumber donated the materials for the project. The next big project league officials would like to undertake include a concession stand and a restroom that are compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act that are closer to the special field.
The Miracle League family of athletes are divided into categories by age and abilities. The athletes are from age 3 to mid- to late-60s.
“A lot of this would not have happened if the Town of Lake Placid, the county commissioners, and especially Glades Electric Charitable Trust, did not believe in us,” Bass said.
Registration forms for the upcoming season should be up on the website next week at ml4hc.com. The phone number is 863-451-6831.