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Two Decades of Expanding All-Inclusive Play

In 1997, a 7-year-old boy named Michael Moore caught the attention of Eddie Bagwell, coach of the Rockdale Youth Baseball Association in Georgia. Moore, who was wheelchair bound, attended every baseball game and practice to support his younger brother. Inspired by his passion for the game, Bagwell invited Moore to join his team. Unbeknownst to him at the time, Bagwell’s invitation was a catalyst for change that would create new opportunities for individuals with disabilities.

By spring of the following year, the first Miracle League had formed with a mission to provide children with disabilities the opportunity to play baseball. What began with just 35 players on four teams in 1998 has grown to include over 275 Miracle League Organizations with more than 180 Miracle League Fields. Located throughout the United States and beyond, the Miracle League now provides over 200,000 children and adults with access to special, all-inclusive facilities that meet their needs.

While reflecting on recent Miracle League projects in Ames, Ankeny and Urbandale, Iowa, Diane Goering, PLA, with Snyder & Associates points to all-inclusive facilities as part of an important, growing recreational trend.

 

“The number of Miracle League facilities being built continues to increase, which helps bring awareness to an underserved population within our communities,” she said. “It’s a great thing to see and be a part of.”

 

Unique aspects of a Miracle League Field over its traditional counterpart include wheelchair accessible dugouts and a rubberized surface to prevent injuries while providing a flat surface that eliminates mobility barriers. All-inclusive playgrounds go beyond ADA requirements to provide ample room for those with mobility devices to be able to navigate and enjoy equipment. Careful consideration is taken into account to create an experience suited for children with varying sensory, motor, strength, cognitive, and social/emotion skills.

Expanding Existing Amenities

Often incorporated into existing parks and little league complexes, Miracle League facilities work to expand park amenities in areas already treasured by community members.

“Integrating Miracle League Fields and playgrounds into existing facilities fosters more opportunities for social interaction between children of all abilities,” shared Goering. “Rather than to build in an entirely new location, we’re able to supplement what’s already available to create a space where children with disabilities can play alongside others their age.”

A young boy enjoys opening day at Ankeny Miracle League Park.

Completed in 2015, the Ankeny Miracle Field and All-Inclusive Playground utilized open space within the little league complex at Hawkeye Park.  Due to its close proximity to Terrance Elementary School, the park is utilized for outdoor recess activities in addition to hosting Miracle League events and being open to the public.

Recently completed and opened to the public in spring 2018, Urbandale Miracle League Field replaces an existing field at Northview Park. By offering kickball and other events, Urbandale aims to utilize the field to increase athletic opportunities for adults with disabilities as well as children.

Ames Miracle League Field embraces the natural wooded setting of Inis Grove Park and utilizes its existing topography to create a unique, all-inclusive experience. Careful thought and planning were used to mitigate concerns regarding stormwater management, traffic, noise, light pollution, safety, and a close proximity to neighboring homes while achieving community project goals.

A Welcome Challenge for the Snyder Team

For Goering and her colleagues, the unique process of merging Miracle League facilities into locations with existing amenities is a welcome challenge.

“For these types of projects, we’re often working with limited space while striving to achieve a number of accessibility goals,” explained Goering. “Overcoming the challenges of constrained, preexisting conditions is difficult, but it compels us to think creatively and problem solve.”

From how to best orient the field within the space available, to how to foster the safe, efficient flow of pedestrian traffic to and from the field, a variety must be addressed.

“By creating and investigating multiple concepts, we’re able to develop a solution that works best to meet the needs of the client and those who will use the park while satisfying regulations created by the league and other entities,” she says. “In doing so, we’re able to ensure a seamless, enjoyable experience for everyone.”

Rendering of children running around a playground.

At-grade playground equipment creates a welcoming experience for individuals with mobility devices while fostering all-inclusive play.

Specific guidelines and requirements set forth by the Miracle League guide engineers, landscape architects, planners, and other professionals during design and construction. A thorough understanding of Miracle League expectations and establishing strong relationships with approved vendors helps streamline the process and guide project success. In addition, professional expertise in meeting ADA requirements as well as knowledge of how to go above and beyond them to create a facility that’s more inclusive is a team asset.

From a holistic perspective, Goering says well-rounded experience in terms of planning and design for traditional parks and sports complexes is beneficial when undertaking Miracle League projects.

“With our experience designing sports complexes and various types of playgrounds, we’ve gained valuable knowledge in what best practices are the most attractive to children and provide them with facilities that support their physical, emotional, and cognitive development.  We strive to understand how children will circulate throughout the space and aim to encourage imaginative, sensory rich, and active play spaces.”

The Ability to Make a Difference

Miracle League facilities improve communities by reaching out to a broader scope of people. They can be used by children and adults with disabilities as well as typical little league programs. For Goering, being able to contribute to the creation of Miracle League facilities is something close to her heart.

“My brother grew up with Down Syndrome and played on the Challenger League,” she shares. “The facilities his team played at posed a lot of difficulty, particularly for kids with mobility constraints. Being able to help create facilities that alleviate the challenges they faced is a rewarding experience.”

For additional information on creating all-inclusive facilities such as the Ankeny and Urbandale Miracle League projects, contact Diane Goering.