COVINGTON, Ga. — Hundreds of family members and special needs players from around the country will likely descend on Covington when it hosts the National Miracle League All-Star Weekend in October 2024.
After months of anticipation, Covington was officially named the host city of the 2024 games by league officials last week.
Olivia Miller, who coordinates the Newton County Miracle League club, said the All-Star Weekend will be a three-day event centered on the Miracle League Field in City Pond Park in Covington.
Past Miracle League All-Star cities have hosted around 500 or more for the event, including more than 100 players and their families.
"We are beyond excited for this opportunity," said Miller, who also supervises the program for the Newton County Parks and Recreation Department.
She said a condition of hosting the event is being "responsible for covering all of the costs" for the players and their families.
The local organization covers the cost of families' hotel rooms, food and transportation around Covington, Miller said.
The nonprofit Friends of the Miracle League will work to raise the funding needed, Miller said.
Those wishing to donate their money — or their time as volunteers for the event — can email Miller at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 770-786-4373, ext. 1050.
"Our initial goal is to raise around $150,000 to cover the costs for the weekend," she said.
"We want to provide a fun, safe, cost-free weekend for these players and their families to come experience our great county," Miller said. "We very much appreciate the city of Covington and Newton County for supporting us."
However, neither government has committed any funding toward the event, Miller said.
The event will open with a meet-and-greet reception on Friday night for the players and their families.
Games will follow the next morning and afternoon, with a gala and dance culminating the event Saturday night, Miller said.
"We are so excited knowing what this weekend means to the players and their families, and the fact that we get to be the city to host it is incredible," she said.
"We have a lot of planning and fundraising ahead of us and are eager to get started."
Mike Hopkins, chairman of the Friends of the Miracle League, said being selected as the host site for the 2024 Miracle League National All-Star Game was "a tremendous honor for our community."
The Miracle League National All-Star Game will unite our community in a good way," Hopkins said.
"Make no mistake! This is not just a feel-good story. This is a real live all-star game," he said.
"Each representative from across the country will be heading to Newton County to show that they are true “all-stars” of the game. "The Friends of the Miracle League is looking forward to hosting such a prestigious event. We are committed to providing a top-level event, and we are asking our community to help us deliver this to such deserving athletes.
"Come join us as we plan to showcase our fantastic Miracle League Park as well as our beautiful community and its vibrant people."
Debbie Harper, president of the Newton Chamber of Commerce, said the organization will be "excited to welcome the Miracle League All Star Games athletes, families and fans to Covington" when it arrives in October 2024.
She said "to be selected is such an honor" but it also will "be a boost to our local economy" with attendees dining and possibly shopping here as well.
"As a Chamber and community we strive to showcase Newton County for events such as this for people to come shop, dine and experience Newton County and hopefully want to come back," she said.
The Miracle League Association was founded in the late 1990s in Conyers and is a nonprofit that provides an opportunity for athletes with special needs to play baseball. Newton County opened its Miracle League Complex at City Pond Park in Covington in 2015.
Games are played on fields equipped with rubberized surfaces to allow easier movement for wheelchair-bound players and to prevent serious injuries in case of falls.
“Buddies” assist Miracle League players during games. They are "mainstream children who play baseball, youth church groups, Boy and Girl Scouts to mention a few," according to the national organization.
"As a result, the parents, children and volunteers are all brought together, special needs and mainstream alike, in a program, which serves them all through service to children with special needs," the Miracle League website states.
More than 300 Miracle League clubs serve over 200,000 children and adults primarily in the U.S. and Puerto Rico, thgou some operate in Canada and Mexico.
Last year’s All-Star Weekend was held Nov. 5-7 in Houston, Texas, while this year's event is set for Sept. 16-18 in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, near Nashville.
County recreation department leaders first discussed applying with the Conyers-based national organization to host the All-Star Weekend in September 2021, Miller said. They submitted the county's application in February.
Newton County Parks and Recreation Director Dwayne Mask and others affiliated with Newton County’s Miracle League club spoke to the county Board of Commissioners Jan. 18 seeking their support to play host to the 2024 event.
The Covington City Council also unanimously approved authorization for Mayor Steve Horton to sign a letter of intent Jan. 3 in support of hosting the games.
Publisher and Editor Taylor Beck contributed to this report.