A field of dreams has become a miracle.
Before Newton County Recreation’s Miracle League Field had its grand opening on Saturday, parents and special needs children were forced to travel to Rockdale to play in its Miracle League. Now, after years of planning, development, bad weather and more bad weather the Miracle League of Newton County is a reality.
“It’s awesome because kids like my daughter, we don’t have to travel as far to play now and [we] know that she’s with good company,” Laurie Gates, whose daughter plays for the Rays, said. “They’ve done all of this for kids so they can play a game just like everybody else. It’s a beautiful field and it’s been so many people that did a lot of things for this to come true in Newton County and it’s great. We appreciate everything that everybody’s done.”
“It’s very exciting,” Tommy Hailey, former Newton County Recreation Commission Director, said. “You see something you were able to be a part of starting and overcoming obstacles that we’ve had to overcome with the weather throughout the year. It’s just great to be here and be a part of it.”
The Miracle League has 72 athletes that are split up into six teams, with 12 athletes per team. For this season at least, all games will be played on Saturday, but as they add more athletes they will look to add more days to play games. The current Spring season started late and will last through June 6. In the future the spring season will start sooner and each season will be approximately eight weeks.
“We needed a therapeutic recreation program here,” Hailey said. “It had to start from somewhere, but I can’t think of a better way for it to start here. I hope this opens the door for [Commission Director] Anthony [Avery] and them to be able to hire some additional people and start offering some additional programs.”
The ceremony began at 11 a.m. and plenty of guests spoke about the long journey that got them to this place. Among some of them were Avery, Executive Director Diane Alford, and Chair Dick Schulz.
Hailey and current Newton County Recreation Commission Director Anthony Avery both addressed Tamara Richardson, who had been brought on in 2009 as a consultant, as one of the key pieces for the Miracle League being able to happen.
“This has been an amazing journey...absolutely amazing,” Richardson said.
“The community has been overwhelmingly so excited and passionate, and got behind this program. So it’s just been a long journey, but an amazing journey. I just am so excited that the journey’s almost at the end and we’re gonna see these kids playing ball on Saturday. It’s been a beautiful project,” she added.
The journey started technically in 2009 when Richardson had been brought along, but Hailey says that he had the idea for the Miracle League years before when he saw how it worked in Rockdale County and when he saw that Richardson was available he knew he had to have her to help make this dream a reality.
The $2 million project was able to get rolling when the county voted to pay $1.5 million via SPLOST. Richardson says that they had plenty of donors and seven partners on the projects gave donations and grants to help with the rest of the costs.
“We could not have done it without the community’s support to be where we are today. And the community voted for SPLOST, $1.5 million of this project is being paid for through the 2011 special purpose local option sales tax so every voter in Newton County is helping through their taxes to fund this program so we would not and could not be where we are today without the support of the entire Newton County community,” Richardson said.
“This program has been long in the coming to be needed here in Newton County,” Richardson said. “I’m just so thrilled that we finally have it because we’ve had a lot of sports programs for able-bodied youth and adults, but none for children and adults with special needs.”
Richardson said that Avery plans to add more sports and/or maybe social events to the league sooner rather than later, but for now it’s just baseball in the spring and fall.
After the ceremonies concluded, it was time to play ball. One young lady, who was on a team slated to play later, shouted “I’m ready to win this thing.”
Taylor Bradley recorded the first hit – a triple – at the Miracle League field, as he raced around the bases you could hear the cheers of parents and fans a quarter mile away.