It’s a home run

The nonprofit Miracle League is giving locals with disabilities the chance to play America’s pastime

By Samantha Bambino

The Times

Eleven years ago, a miracle was created in Northampton Township. No, it wasn’t in the form of a spiritual being, but rather bats, bases and uniforms. The baseball team Miracle League isn’t your average group of players. The league consists entirely of children and adults with special needs, and gives them the opportunity to find enrichment and a sense of belonging through good old American sports.

The dream team is here: The Miracle League gives kids with special needs the chance to excel in an athletic, team environment. PHOTO: MIRACLE LEAGUE

The Miracle League of Northampton Township came to be thanks to a few locals and their mission to make a difference. Twenty-five years ago, the organization Challenger League had two special needs baseball teams in Doylestown and Newtown. In 2006, Miracle League of Northampton Township president and past coach in the Challenger League, Brian Damiani, was contacted by a Northampton local who wanted to form a team a little closer to home. A year later, another local offered to build a field. At this point, it only made sense to combine the two teams of Challenger League into one Miracle League. The team and field were officially ready for that first pitch in 2012.

The sole purpose of the Miracle League of Northampton Township is to provide educational and social development opportunities for individuals with special needs, as well as their families, through recreational sports.

The nonprofit organization welcomes all players ages 5 and up with mental disabilities regardless of their experience level or ability. The only requirement, according to Damiani, is for each player to have some sort of disability, whether it be ADD or autism, that prevents them from playing on an average team.

Reflecting on one particular family, he explained how it gives not only the kids, but also the parents, a sense of purpose and excitement. This family had three autistic children — a set of 10-year-old twins and a 6-year-old. After participating in the team environment, the mother contacted Damiani to tell him Miracle League was the first program to never tell her it’s not going to work out.

Even from a coaching standpoint, the experience of having a part in the team is extremely rewarding, according to Damiani.

“It’s seeing these children achieve at something,” he said.

At the end of the spring season in June, the players were presented a trophy by the Phillie Phanatic at a special ceremony. Also to celebrate a successful season, the team participated in the George School Festival, an entire weekend of games, activities and the chance to sleep over in a dorm to get a true college experience.

Phillie phavorites: The Miracle League of Northampton Township’s baseball team got to meet the Phillie Phanatic. PHOTO: MIRACLE LEAGUE

Miracle League baseball operates in two seasons, spring and fall, at the fully rubberized and handicap accessible field in Northampton Park. All special needs athletes are welcome to play, and don’t need to be a resident of Northampton Township to participate. Athletes are grouped based on age and playing experience, and are broken up into three divisions: Minors, ages 5–8; Majors, ages 9–12; American & National, ages 13 and up.

For the younger division, which includes 40 players out of the total 140, most are required to have a “buddy” to assist them and keep them safe. While parents and siblings are able to step in, most buddies are local volunteers looking to dedicate time to a great organization. According to Damiani, many people and organizations have been willing to volunteer and sponsor.

“We’re very lucky to be in Northampton Township,” he said.

Though there are Miracle Leagues throughout the country, Damiani takes a special pride in Northampton, which has expanded to include basketball, bowling and soccer, as well as making the local area a safe haven for the disabled. The organization is working to retrofit the township’s playground to be handicap accessible, which is set to be completed next year.

In addition to Miracle League, Damiani runs a special needs ice hockey team, the Bucks County Admirals. The team was formed in 2007 to give special needs children and adults the opportunity to play the “great game of ice hockey,” which he says is his true passion. Now in their 10th season, the Admirals have more than 40 players competing and having fun at the Bucks County Ice Center. The season runs September through April. For more information, visit bcsn1.org/?page_id=403.

The fall season of Miracle League’s baseball team will run for four weeks on Sunday afternoons after Labor Day. For more information on this and the other available sports, visit mlnorthampton.com ••