The Jaindl Family Park is designed specifically for children with special needs and was opened in the summer of 2006.

Miracle League of the Lehigh valley gets disabled children in the game


Each weekend during the months of May through October, Kate Brislin, 7, and John Brislin, 5 — who both have cerebral palsy — get the chance to throw on a jersey, step up to bat and play baseball like typically functioning children do.

So does Richard Klingensmith, 9, who frequently gets seizures, has been diagnosed with ADHD, autism and anxiety, and wears braces on his legs.

On game days, it doesn’t matter who’s in a wheelchair, who can’t stay focused long enough to complete an inning, or who is non-verbal.

The Miracle League of the Lehigh Valley offers children with any type of special needs or disabilities the opportunity to join a team and play baseball.

Its goal, according to the organization’s website, is to create a personalized and professional baseball experience for children of all abilities and skill levels. No one is excluded.

“(At the Miracle League), there are no strikes, every child gets a chance to hit, the last batter of each inning gets a home run and every game magically ends in a tie,” said Kyle O’Neill, the executive director of the league. “We stress fun and friendship over competition. The social benefits, in my opinion, outweigh the competitive aspect.”

Founded in 2006 on the idea that children of any ability could benefit from playing in a league of others just like them, The Miracle League of the Lehigh Valley currently has over 250 participants, some as young as age 3.

The league organizes nearly 100 games each season at its field, the Jaindl Family Park, in Schnecksville, and has a 1-to-1 ratio of players to volunteers at each game.

Many of the players, like Richard and the Brislins, have been playing for several years, allowing them to form strong friendships with their coaches and team members.

Back when Richard joined the league in 2012, his mother explained that he was very shy, had no close friends and wasn’t particularly interested in playing sports. Joining The Miracle League changed things for him.

“He has completely opened up socially, has formed great friendships and even considers baseball to be his favorite sport now,” said Aileen Klingensmith, Richard’s mom.

According to O’Neill, the reason the league is so special is because of the genuine experience it offers children: there is a PA announcer at every game, a video scoreboard where players at bat are featured with their picture and stats, and when someone hits a homerun, there are fireworks and loud upbeat music played — just like the big leagues.

The field itself also caters specifically to the needs of the children and makes the experience different from that of other leagues.

According to the organization’s website, the field is a state-of-the-art complex designed specifically for children with special needs. It is composed of a cushioned synthetic turf to prevent injuries and allows easy mobility around the bases. All surfaces at the field are completely flat to eliminate any barriers to wheelchairs, crutches and braces, and all areas are handicap accessible.

Ron Dendas, a parent of a player with Down syndrome and coach of nine years, has witnessed the positive effects of the organization first hand. Not only do the players benefit, but he also believes the parents and volunteers do too.

“It really gives the players the opportunity to be the stars and the heroes for once,” Dendas said. “Seeing the rise in their self-esteem when they put that uniform on and see their name on the scoreboard is absolutely priceless. Seeing parents’ faces, too, when their child rounds third base is something that truly can’t be described.”

For most children with disabilities, this is the first time that they have had the chance to play a team sport and succeed at something on their own. It is also the first time that many parents have seen their children accomplish their goals and feel confident in themselves, Dendas said.

For many families with children with disabilities and special needs, life at home can sometimes be a struggle. The Miracle League offers families the chance to network with others who face similar hardships, and gain the support of others.

“To be able to give parents an hour or two break and to let them sit back and enjoy seeing their child play baseball really helps to fill a void,” Dendas said.

Megan Brislin, mother of John and Kate Brislin, believes that the league has helped her to see a new part of her children’s personalities that she may not have been exposed to otherwise.

“Even though John and Kate are non-verbal, I can see that they really understand the game,” she said.  “I know it is helping to develop their minds in more ways than one.”

Megan Brislin also explains that there are several benefits that the league offers to those other than the players, like the volunteers.

Braden Brislin, 9, Kate and John’s typically functioning older brother, is one example of a loyal volunteer. He comes to cheer on his siblings and helps out at every game. He even brings some of his friends from school along with him.

“The Miracle League allows our family to all participate in something together,” Megan Brislin said. “It helps those like Braden and his friends to understand what children with disabilities are really like, which is really important.”

O’Neill explained that everyone is encouraged to come out and volunteer with The Miracle League, and its success is accredited to the amazing volunteers that help, whether it be once on a whim or consistently every week.

“Oftentimes, families with disabilities are excluded from many activities, whether intentional or non-intentional,” Megan Brislin said. “Everyone gets a chance at The Miracle League and everyone walks away feeling better than they did before.”

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